LONG BEACH (CNS) - A former Long Beach Unified School District safety officer charged with murder for fatally shooting an 18-year-old woman made his first court appearance today and was ordered to remain jailed in lieu of $2 million bail while awaiting arraignment.
Eddie Gonzalez, 51, appeared in Long Beach Courthouse before Judge Tomson T. Ong and was scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 8.
Gonzalez -- who was fired by the LBUSD about a week after shooting Manuela “Mona'' Rodriguez in the head Sept. 27 as she was sitting inside a moving car -- was arrested Wednesday by Long Beach police detectives in the city of Orange and remained behind bars in Long Beach.
Rodriguez was shot near Spring Street and Palo Verde Avenue, near Millikan High School, and was on life support until Oct. 5. Her family's lawyer said her heart, lungs, liver and both kidneys were donated that day, saving the lives of five people.
The young woman, who was the mother of an infant son, was in the front passenger seat of a car that was being driven away from the scene of an altercation when the shooting occurred shortly after 3 p.m.
Long Beach police responding to the scene found the woman with at least one gunshot wound.
“It's an unfortunate, unnecessary death that left a 6-month-old without a mother, a family without a daughter, and clearly a tremendous loss to our entire community,'' Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon said while announcing the murder charge against Gonzalez at a news conference Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles.
Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said detectives determined that the school safety officer was driving on patrol when he saw a physical altercation between Rodriguez and a 15-year-old girl occurring in the lanes of traffic.
Rodriguez was accompanied by a 20-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy “whose level of participation is still under investigation,'' according to the police chief.
When Rodriguez, the man and the boy attempted to flee in a four-door sedan, the school safety officer approached the car and discharged his weapon as the driver began driving away, Luna said.
“Mona was in the front passenger seat of the vehicle and was struck by the gunfire,'' the police chief said.
Video of the shooting posted online appears to show the officer firing at least two shots at the car.
The county's top prosecutor lauded the Long Beach Police Department for conducting a “very complex investigation in record time.''
“There is obviously a lot of video,'' Gascon said. “The videos only tell a part of the story so we have to go beyond that, and that is the work that the Long Beach Police Department did.''
Along with reviewing video footage, investigators also canvassed the area and interviewed witnesses, the city's police chief told reporters Wednesday.
Luna said the highly publicized shooting “really impacted our community heavily,'' and called the ensuing investigation and criminal case “just a step in trying to bring some closure to this very unfortunate and impactful incident not only to our city, but the family, the Rodriguez family.''
Shortly after the announcement that the former officer had been charged, one of the woman's brothers, Oscar Rodriguez, told reporters that it was the “first step of justice and hopefully our healing process.''
“I've waited a long time for something that is pretty obvious, but I guess this is how the justice system works,'' he said.
In a letter sent to Gascon earlier urging charges against the officer, an attorney for the woman's family wrote that “various videos of the incident were captured by bystanders showing Officer Gonzalez taking reckless action when he shot into a moving vehicle and gravely injured'' the woman.
“This officer had no justification to use deadly force against Ms. Rodriguez because Ms. Rodriguez did not pose an imminent threat to the officer when she was shot by the officer,'' attorney Luis Carrillo wrote in the letter to Gascon.
“The actions of this officer constitute a serious violation of state and federal constitutional rights. The unjustified use of deadly force by this officer also meet the threshold for criminal charges against the officer for murder or for manslaughter.''
On Oct. 6, the school district announced that Gonzalez had violated district policies on use of force and had been fired.
“After our internal review, we clearly saw areas where the employee violated district policy and did not meet our standards and expectations,'' LBUSD Superintendent Jill Baker said.
“We believe the decision to terminate this officer's employment is warranted, justified and quite frankly, the right thing to do.
“The use-of-force policy used by our school safety office states officers shall not fire at a fleeing person, shall not fire at a moving vehicle and shall not fire through a vehicle window unless circumstances clearly warrant the use of a firearm as a final means of defense. Again, based on our review, we believe our internal policy was violated.''
It is unclear whether Gonzalez is the first school safety officer to be charged with murder. Gascon said prosecutors were not able to find any other school safety officers who had faced a murder count, but added, “That's not to say that it hasn't occurred before.''
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