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Criminal Justice

Young Woman Shot By Long Beach School Officer Is Not Expected To Recover

A photo of a campus sign from Millikan High School next to a parking structure.
Millikan High School campus.
(Photo by Michael Marais on Unsplash
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Eighteen-year-old Mona Rodriguez has been in critical condition at Long Beach MemorialCare Hospital since Monday afternoon, after she was shot by a school safety officer employed at Millikan High School.

“She's still on life support,” said Michael Carrillo, an attorney representing the Rodriguez family. “In terms of her recovery, the family unfortunately is not very hopeful at this time.”

The shooting happened just down the street from Millikan, near Spring Street and Palo Verde Avenue in Long Beach.

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Relatives say Rodriguez, who has a 5-month-old son, has lost brain activity. Carrillo says her mother is keeping her on assistance for the time being.

“As you can imagine, a mother having to pull the cord on her 18-year-old child is just something that anybody would have a difficult time doing,” said Carrillo.

Rodriguez was reportedly in a physical altercation with a 15-year-old student from Millikan when the officer saw the fight from a safety vehicle and intervened. Then Rodriguez got into a vehicle which began driving away. Videos of the incident posted to social media show the officer shooting into the car followed by screams.

The officer — who has not yet been identified — has been placed on leave. The shooting is under investigation by the Long Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, but Carrillo says that’s not enough and that the officer violated his client’s civil rights.

“I think this meets the level of criminal conduct and that this man should be charged and convicted of murder or manslaughter,” said Carrillo.

The family is calling for the California Attorney General’s office to also investigate. They plan to file a government claim with the Long Beach Unified School District as well as a federal civil rights lawsuit.

“This officer took actions into his own hands,” Carillo said. “He's not trained as a peace officer, and he shot at a moving vehicle that was going away from them, and in the process he gravely injured this poor woman.”

Safety Officers employed by the Long Beach Unified complete a standardized 664-hour Peace Officers Standards Basic Academy.

District spokesperson Chris Eftychiou says they generally assist with more serious incidents that might occur on or near a campus involving students or staff. “They also assist and work with law enforcement to maintain order and prevent criminal activities that may impact our schools. They're assigned to the high school specifically, and they're trained to respond to any potential active shooter incident,” he said.

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While Long Beach’s school safety officers wear a uniform and carry a firearm, they are not sworn peace officers and are not required to have previous law enforcement experience.

And even when districts do have formal police departments for schools — such as in Los Angeles Unified School District — the debate over whether armed officers should be in schools is complicated. The push to remove police from schools comes from an effort to stop the so-called school-to-prison pipeline where the criminalization of young people, especially of Black youth, has negative outcomes, including higher rates of incarceration. A recent investigation from KPCC/LAist and ProPublica revealed Sheriff's deputies targeting and criminalizing Black students in Antelope Valley Schools.

But some argue that anyone armed on campus should not only be or have been a member of an official law enforcement agency, but should have specialized training for interacting with kids and in a school environment.

The National Organization of School Resource Officers offers speciality training for law enforcement to work in school. Executive director Mo Canady says that just like working in S.W.A.T. or as a bomb technician, working on a school campus and with youth is a specialty assignment that requires specific expertise. “But it’s the most unique assignment in law enforcement,” he said.

Canady said training for School Resource Officers — not to be confused with School Safety Officers — includes courses on adolescent brain development, special education and implicit bias. “We train on adolescent emotional issues that children are going to face,” he said. “And how the officer can interact appropriately with them.”

Rodriguez was shot off campus by on-campus security. Canady said navigating the space between on campus and the surrounding community becomes more complex without the expertise of a sworn peace officer.

“It's just a difficult situation to think about a non-sworn person leaving the school campus,” said Canady.

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