Shooting of unarmed teen by Long Beach school police sparks outrage, questions
The shooting of an unarmed teenager in a moving car this week by a Long Beach Unified School District police officer outside a local high school has generated outrage, questions and grief.
Independent law enforcement experts interviewed by The Times raised serious concerns about the incident based on videos of the shooting, which left the teenager in critical condition.
Here is what we know about the case:
Officials with the Long Beach Police Department said the safety officer, who has not been identified, was driving about a block away from Millikan High School when he saw two teenagers fighting on the sidewalk about 3:15 p.m. and stopped to intervene.
One of the teens, later identified as Mona Rodriguez, jumped into the passenger’s seat of a gray sedan and tried to leave, and the safety officer opened fire, police said. Video posted to social media appears to show the officer firing at least two shots at the car as it moves past him.
No evidence has emerged that anyone involved in the fight was armed, and a friend of the driver said no one in the car that drove off attended Millikan High.
Authorities said Rodriguez, 18, was struck in the upper body. Her family said she was shot in the back of the head.
She has been in critical condition at Long Beach Medical Center since the shooting, hospital officials said. Her family says she is brain dead and on life support.
Rodriguez’s 20-year-old partner, Rafeul Chowdhury, said Wednesday that he was driving the car and that his 16-year-old brother, Shahriear Chowdhury, was in the back seat when the shots were fired.
The officer had threatened to use pepper spray to break up the fight between Rodriguez and a 15-year-old girl, who was not identified, Refeul Chowdhury said, but he did not indicate he was armed. No one in the car had a gun, he said.
“It was all for no reason,” Chowdhury said through tears. “The way he shot at us wasn’t right.”
The Long Beach school safety officer who opened fire on a moving car filled with young people may have violated policy, according to documents obtained by The Times and several law enforcement experts.
- ‘No imminent threat’
Retired Los Angeles police Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey watched cellphone videos of the shooting and said it was “another example of a police officer using his gun to stop an alleged suspect.”
“There was no imminent threat to his life as the car sped away from him,” Dorsey said.
- ‘The car isn’t a threat’
Seth Stoughton, a former Florida police officer and a University of South Carolina law professor who studies shootings, said most law enforcement training today strongly discourages officers from firing at a moving vehicle, which is “highly unlikely to actually stop the car and risks making the situation worse.”
“Officers can use deadly force when they reasonably believe the subject presents an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm,” he said, noting 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.”
By the time the officer began firing, he already was near the back of the car, Stoughton added.
“The car isn’t a threat, so there is no justification for the use of deadly force here.”
- ‘It was moving away from him when he fired’
Charles “Sid” Heal, a retired L.A. County sheriff’s commander who has testified in hundreds of use-of-force cases, said that unless a firearm was in the vehicle, an officer who discharges a weapon may face criminal charges.
“The car clearly was not a weapon, as it was moving away from him when he fired,” he said.
Heal said the shooting raises larger questions about the school officer’s training and why he would consider it reasonable to shoot in that situation.
According to a use-of-force policy from Long Beach Unified’s school safety office, officers are not permitted to fire at a moving vehicle. Firearms may be discharged only when reasonably necessary and justified under the circumstances, such as self-defense and the protection of others, the policy states. The policy also bars shooting at fleeing suspects.
Chris Eftychiou, a spokesman for the school district, said the district was “carefully reviewing multiple aspects” while cooperating with the Long Beach Police Department, which is working with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office on an investigation of the shooting.
“We need to defer to the investigative agencies for questions about adherence to policies,” he said. Neither agency would comment on potential policy violations Thursday.
A retired Long Beach Unified school safety officer who asked to remain anonymous said officers go through a police academy followed by a short probationary period, but their training is “not anywhere close” to what officers at the Long Beach Police Department and similar agencies receive.
School safety officers were told not to engage in issues off campus, he said. They can detain people but cannot make arrests beyond citizen’s arrests.
The retired officer, who said he spent more than a dozen years in the same position as the officer involved in Monday’s shooting, said he studied videos of the shooting from various angles and felt the officer was in the wrong — both for unholstering his weapon and for firing it.
“What that officer did was completely out of line of the protocol,” he said.
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