Video appears to show officer firing at fleeing car in incident fueling calls for removal of armed officers from schools
An 18-year-old woman is on life support after a school safety officer shot her near a high school in Long Beach, California, this week, sparking outrage and renewing calls for armed officers to be removed from schools.
The victim, identified by her family as Manuela Rodriguez, was shot while in a moving vehicle on Monday afternoon. The Long Beach police department (LBPD) said an officer for the school district was driving when he observed an altercation between Rodriguez and a 15-year-old girl taking place down the street from Millikan high school and attempted to intervene.
Rodriguez then entered a vehicle, which began to drive away. In cellphone video footage circulating on social media, it appeared that the officer fired at the car as it was fleeing.
The officer’s bullet hit the 18-year-old, who is also the mother of a five-month-old boy. Rodriguez, who police say was hit in the upper body, was taken to the hospital in critical condition. As of Thursday morning, doctors had declared her braindead and were moving to take her off of life support, according to an attorney for the family.
The officer, who has not been identified, is employed by the school district and on paid administrative leave. Rodriguez, also known as Mona, is not a student at the high school.
The shooting in Long Beach, a city south of Los Angeles, has prompted condemnation of the officer’s tactics. “For this officer to go after the car and to start shooting inside the car was totally against policy, against training, and against common sense,” Luis Carrillo, an attorney for Rodriguez’s family, told the Guardian. He said there were no reports that anyone was armed, and that no one was posing a threat to the officer.
“Everything went wrong. You don’t shoot at a car that is leaving a location … And you should not have armed officers dealing with kids,” Carrillo said, calling for the officer to be arrested and charged with murder or manslaughter.
Long Beach police and the district attorney are investigating the shooting.
Police departments across the US have increasingly adopted policies against shooting at moving vehicles, recognizing that firing into a car can greatly endanger the public. Federal guidance instructs officers only to fire at a driver if the driver presents a deadly threat that is separate from the vehicle (such as pointing a gun). Best practices dictate that officers should get out of the way of moving vehicles instead of shooting, experts have said.
The Long Beach school district’s use of force policy for its officers says they “shall not fire at a moving vehicle” and “shall not fire at a fleeing person”, according to a copy of the rules shared with the Guardian.
Some have questioned why the officer was involved in a dispute off campus in a parking lot. A school district spokesman said its officers “work both on campus and near campuses [to] ensure safe passage of students to and from school”, and that the officer was on duty and was “conducting safe passage for students leaving Millikan high school”.
Since the mass protests last year sparked by the murder of George Floyd, advocates across the US have pushed for police to be removed from schools, and to reinvest those funds in programs and services for students. Oakland is now moving to remove its police department from schools, and the LA school board has voted to cut the number of police officers in its schools.
The city of Long Beach’s racial equity report last year recommended that the school district take steps to “reduce use of school police” and “review alternative models”. A school spokesman said the district currently employed nine full-time school safety officers and two part-time officers.
Audrena Redmond, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Long Beach, said the group had been fighting to remove armed officers from schools and reinvest those resources into programs and vital staff needs, such as counselors, social workers and nurses.
Redmond said she didn’t want to see school officials respond by promising more training, but rather by removing guns altogether from campuses. The presence of armed officers in schools was detrimental to students, she said: “It criminalizes people. It normalizes being policed from a very early age.”
There was no justification for the violent response by the officer, she added: “They were doing what happens among kids, which is fighting and arguing … and then he shot a teenager at close range. It’s horrible.”
Rafeul Chowdhury, 20, the father of Rodriguez’s child, told the LA Times that he was in the car when she was shot: ““It was all for no reason … The way he shot at us wasn’t right.” He added: “I just want justice for my girl, my baby mama, the love of my life that I can’t get back ever again.”
Carrillo, the family attorney, said people from across the community had gathered for a vigil to call for justice for Rodriguez: “She was a good mother to her five-month-old child. And she was a very loving young lady.”
Jill Baker, the Long Beach school superintendent, said in a statement: “Our school safety officers are hired to protect the physical safety of our staff and students on and around campuses. They are highly trained and held accountable to the established standards in their profession. Those standards will be used to assess the incident that occurred.”