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Home / Neighborhood / Long Beach / Judge won’t dismiss murder charge vs. ex-LBUSD safety officer

Judge won’t dismiss murder charge vs. ex-LBUSD safety officer

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A judge refused Tuesday to dismiss a murder count against a former Long Beach Unified School District safety officer charged in the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old woman near a high school last fall.

Superior Court Judge Richard Goul — who reviewed a video of the shooting — said he found no legal error in a Jan. 19 ruling by another judge who found there was sufficient evidence to allow the case against Eddie Gonzalez, 52, to proceed to trial.

He noted that the case will proceed to trial before a jury that would have the prerogative to come to a different interpretation of the facts.

Goul also rejected the defense’s motion to reduce bail from $2 million to $100,000.

The former school safety officer has remained behind bars since he was arrested Oct. 27 by Long Beach Police Department detectives in Orange.

Gonzalez — who was fired by the district about a week after shooting Manuela “Mona” Rodriguez in the head on Sept. 27 as she sat inside a moving car — was charged a month later with her killing.

At the Jan. 19 hearing in which Gonzalez was ordered to stand trial, Superior Court Judge Daniel Lowenthal rejected defense attorney Michael Schwartz’s request to reduce the charge from murder to manslaughter or to lower Gonzalez’s bail, citing  “the senselessness of this act.”

At the end of the nearly daylong preliminary hearing in January, Lowenthal said it was “simply a tragic and heartbreaking case” primarily for the family and friends of Rodriguez, but also to the community of nearby Millikan High School and the family and friends of the defendant, whom he said “didn’t set out to kill someone on that day.”

The judge said there was “no evidence at any point, though, that he (Gonzalez) actually was afraid of the car” and “didn’t dive away from the car” as it moved, despite the defendant’s statement to a Long Beach police detective soon afterward that he had feared that the vehicle was going to strike him after he ordered the vehicle’s occupants to stop near Spring Street and Palo Verde Avenue.

Lowenthal called a video of the shooting “very clear” and “powerful.”

Gonzalez — who relayed that he wanted to be a “positive influence” for school children — told police shortly after the shooting that he had come upon a fight in the street between Rodriguez and a female Millikan student and that he asked the two to sit down after breaking up the altercation but that Rodriguez fled to the nearby car, LBPD Detective Donald Collier testified at the hearing in January.

“He said, `Why did he have to try to run me over?”‘ the detective said of his interview with Gonzalez shortly after the shooting. “He stated he was not struck by the car.”

Rodriguez was shot once in the back of the head 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, the mother of an infant son, was in the front passenger seat of a car that was being driven away from the scene of the altercation.

Deputy District Attorney Saeed Teymouri called it a case of “second- degree murder,” telling the judge in January that Gonzalez was “in no danger.” The prosecutor argued that he believed the school safety officer had acted “out of anger” and not fear — an accusation that Gonzalez’s attorney said was “utterly ridiculous.”

Gonzalez’s attorney countered that the vehicle’s driver decided to go forward rather than stopping as the school safety officer demanded, and that his client feared for his life. Schwartz said that the events involved a “very unique set of circumstances,” and that Gonzalez was not a threat to the community.

Then-LBPD Chief Robert Luna, who has since retired, said last year that detectives determined 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,” the police chief said then.

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,” Luna said.

One bullet went through the rear passenger window, with the other striking just below the door handle of the rear passenger door, and two casings were found, Detective Ethan Shear testified during the hearing in January.

The woman’s boyfriend, Rafeul Chowdhury, who was driving the Infiniti, told police that they were in the area to purchase a pair of baby shoes sold through an online site, and that Rodriguez got out of the car when she saw the teenage girl, with whom she had been involved in an online dispute following a fight between the teen and someone Rodriguez knew, according to Shear.

Shear testified that Chowdhury told police that the school safety officer threatened to pepper-spray his girlfriend and the teenager if they didn’t stop fighting, and that he “basically panicked” and began screaming for help upon realizing that Rodriguez had been shot as he tried to drive away from Gonzalez.

The teenage girl involved in the altercation with Rodriguez told police that a phone had fallen from her pocket and had been taken but was placed on the ground before the group got into the vehicle, and that there had been threats made toward her, according to Collier.

Chowdhury’s younger brother told police that the group had followed the girl from the high school, Collier said.

A motorist who was stopped at a light nearby subsequently called police to report that he believed Gonzalez had been in danger of being struck by the car, with its tires heard screeching in the video.

The teenage girl involved in the confrontation told police that she believed the vehicle had almost run the school safety officer over after he ordered the car’s occupants to stop, Collier said.

Shortly after the announcement that the former school safety 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.

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,” Baker said. “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. Los Angeles County District Attorney Gascón 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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