The day after 18-year-old Mona Rodriguez—who was shot by a Southern California school safety officer last week—was taken off life support, the Long Beach Police Department announced that it is investigating the incident as a homicide.
“Yesterday, Oct. 6, 2021, Manuela ‘Mona’ Rodriguez, who was struck in the upper body in a shooting incident on Sep. 27, 2021, succumbed to her injuries,” the department said in a statement released Thursday. “In light of this news, detectives are now investigating this matter as a homicide.”
A Long Beach PD spokesman confirmed to The Daily Beast that an investigation is underway, but could not provide a timeline for its completion.
The announcement follows Wednesday’s firing by the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) of the officer involved, Eddie F. Gonzalez, for violating district policy on the use of force, Superintendent Jill Baker said at a news conference.
“After our internal review, we clearly saw areas where the employee violated district policy and did not meet our standards and expectations,” Baker told reporters. “We believe the decision to terminate this officer’s employment is warranted, justified and quite frankly, the right thing to do.”
Jerlene Tatum, a community advocate working with the Rodriguez family, told The Daily Beast that they are “thankful” Gonzalez’s employment has been terminated, but that the family is hopeful he will soon be arrested and charged.
Rodriguez was shot on the afternoon of Sept. 27, while sitting in a car near Long Beach’s Millikan High School. Moments earlier, Rodriguez had been in the middle of the street, fighting a 15-year-old girl shortly after school let out for the day. When Gonzalez happened upon the scene, he reportedly warned the pair he would pepper spray them if they didn’t break it up. Rodriguez then got back in the car, which started to pull away, according to bystander video of the interaction. Suddenly, Gonzalez, who was standing beside the front passenger door, fired two shots at the moving vehicle, striking Rodriguez.
“Investigators have determined a 20-year-old male adult and a 16-year-old male juvenile were also involved; however, their participation level remains under investigation,” according to the Long Beach PD’s release. Detectives believe that Rodriguez and the 15-year-old knew each other, and that Rodriguez instigated the fight.
Rodriguez spent more than a week on life support. On Tuesday, she donated her heart, liver, lungs, and both kidneys, said Luis Carrillo, the lawyer representing Rodriguez’s family. The medical staff on Rodriguez’s floor stood in the hallway to honor her as she was taken to the operating room for her organs to be harvested. Her favorite song, “Letter to My Son,” by Skeezy, was played on repeat during the procedure, Carrillo told The Daily Beast.
And although Carrillo is pleased that the Long Beach PD now considers the case to be a homicide, he wants Gonzalez to be charged with murder.
“We’re just halfway there,” Carrillo said. “The word ‘homicide’ is commonly used by the county coroner here—if it’s not accidental, and it’s not suicide, if it’s caused at the hands of another, it’s homicide. But that doesn’t guarantee they’re going to arrest him.”
Long Beach school safety officers are armed, but are not fully accredited peace officers like regular cops. The official job description for Long Beach school safety officers includes patrolling school sites “and adjacent areas to provide safety and protection for students, staff, equipment and property; assure compliance with applicable laws, codes, rules and regulations.” They are not members of the Long Beach Police Department, nor are the two formally affiliated.
Details about Gonzalez’s past have emerged slowly, and are far from exhaustive. But the information that’s been revealed offers a small peek at the man who touched off a firestorm some 10 days ago.
State records reviewed by the Long Beach Post show Gonzalez worked as a sworn police officer in the Southern California cities of Los Alamitos and Sierra Madre, but only stayed on the job for a few months at each. Gonzalez was a member of the Los Alamitos force from January 8, 2019 to April 8, 2019, according to the report. In September 2019, Gonzalez joined the Sierra Madre PD, staying on the job until July 2020, his now-deleted LinkedIn profile stated.
As a young man, Gonzalez was a police explorer, according to footage of a 2019 Los Alamitos City Council meeting at which he and other new cops were introduced. He served in the U.S. Marines, then went to work for Time Warner Cable, where he stayed for 24 years before getting laid off. In January 2021, Gonzalez was hired by the Long Beach Unified School District as a school safety officer.
It is unclear why Gonzalez spent such short periods of time as a full-fledged police officer, and if he resigned or was fired. Long Beach Unified School District spokesman Chris Eftychiou told the Long Beach Post that the school district was aware of Gonzalez’s past employment and vetted him thoroughly, but found nothing disqualifying.
In California, a cop’s personnel records are protected, “so that the public will never know when an officer is fired for misconduct, for example,” Carrillo told The Daily Beast. But, he said, the Rodriguez family plans to file a lawsuit seeking damages for Mona’s death. And in civil court, a judge can order personnel files to be turned over to a plaintiff’s attorneys, he explained. However, that information cannot be released publicly.
“What we’re going to do is send preservation of evidence letters to those police departments, telling them, ‘Don’t destroy those files,’” said Carrillo.
Yet, the civil process is not an immediate priority for Carrillo, who earlier this week held a press conference outside the offices of Los Angeles County DA George Gascón, to demand Gonzalez be held accountable for Rodriguez’s death.
“The number one priority is to get him arrested,” said Carrillo. “The number two priority is the sadness, bereavement, healing, and the funeral. The civil process is coming third.”
At last night’s news conference, Baker, the LBUSD superintendent, offered condolences to Mona Rodriguez’s family and friends, adding, “The actions of one employee do not represent our thousands of employees who work each day to provide our students the best education possible.”