Why Did a Long Beach School Safety Officer Fire a Gun at a Fleeing Car?

A young mother was critically injured in a shooting incident involving a Long Beach Unified School District safety officer on Monday

An 18-year-old woman who was left brain dead after she was shot by a Long Beach Unified School District safety officer earlier this week will likely be taken off life support on Friday, an attorney for her family tells the Long Beach Post.

Mona Rodriguez, mother of a five-month-old baby, was shot Monday afternoon after being involved in a fight with a 15-year-old girl in a parking lot near Millikan High School, the Los Angeles Times reports. The safety officer, who was driving in the area at around 3:15 p.m., saw the two teenagers fighting and intervened, as shown in video footage that’s circulated on social media.

Shortly after, Rodriguez got into the passenger seat of a gray sedan, which was occupied by her 20-year-old boyfriend and his teenage brother, and attempted to flee the scene. As the sedan started to speed away, the safety officer opened fire into the vehicle at least two times, footage shows.

Police say Rodriguez was shot in the upper body, but her family said that she was shot in the back of the head. So far, no evidence has emerged to indicate that anyone involved in the fight was armed.

Rodriguez has since been in critical condition and on life support at Long Beach Medical Center. According to reporting from Long Beach Post, her family has made the decision to take her off life support. The safety officer, who has not been identified, is on paid administrative leave which is protocol following shootings, LBUSD officials told the Times.

Rafeul Chowdhury, 20, Rodriguez’s partner of two years and father of her son, was driving the sedan when she was shot. His 16-year-old brother, Shahriear Chowdhury, was also in the vehicle.

“I don’t think my girlfriend deserved this,” the elder Chowdhury said during a press conference earlier this week. “It was all for no reason. … The way he shot at us wasn’t right.”

The circumstances surrounding the shooting have sparked outrage and serious concerns, not only from Rodriguez’s family and attorney but also legal experts who say that the safety officer was not justified in the incident.

Seth Stoughton, a former Florida police officer and University of South Carolina law professor who studies shootings, tells the Times that most law enforcement training strongly discourages officers from shooting at a moving vehicle because the odds of it actually stopping the car are low and it risks escalating the situation.

“Officers can use deadly force when they reasonably believe the subject presents an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm,” Stoughton tells the paper. He also notes that although the car was turning right while the officer was standing on the passenger’s side, “the threat was minimal and all he had to do to make it nonexistent was slide back slightly.”

Stoughton adds that the safety officer was already at the back of the vehicle when he started firing, therefore, “The car isn’t a threat, so there is no justification for the use of deadly force here.”

The Long Beach Unified School’s use-of-force policy indicates that officers are not permitted to shoot at a moving vehicle, the Times reports. The policy states that an officer may use lethal force only when reasonably necessary and justified under the circumstances, such as self-defense and the protection of others. The policy also prohibits officers from shooting at fleeing suspects.

Carrillo, the attorney for the Rodriguez family, said the officer should be punished for his actions. “It’s more than a violation of school district policy,” he told the Long Beach Post. “What it is is totally unjustified use of deadly force against a young woman, and this officer should not only be fired but he should be arrested to face charges of murder or voluntary manslaughter.”

Chris Eftychiou, a spokesman for the school district, said the district is “carefully reviewing multiple aspects” of the incident while cooperating with the Long Beach Police Department, which is working with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office on the investigation of the shooting, according to the Times.

“We need to defer to the investigative agencies for questions about adherence to policies,” he said. Neither agency commented to the Times on potential policy violations.

Rodriguez’s family started a Go Fund Me to raise money for her funeral, lawyer fees, and for her infant son, Isael.

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