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A sign with a photo of Mona Rodriguez is posted in front of the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles, when District Attorney George Gascón
 announced the filing of a murder charge against Eddie Gonzalez. (Eric Licas, Press-Telegram/SCNG)
A sign with a photo of Mona Rodriguez is posted in front of the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles, when District Attorney George Gascón announced the filing of a murder charge against Eddie Gonzalez. (Eric Licas, Press-Telegram/SCNG)
Orange County Register associate Nathan Percy.

Additional Information: Mugs.1113 Photo by Nick Koon /Staff Photographer.
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

Jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict Tuesday, April 16 over the murder charge against a Long Beach Unified School District safety officer as she sat in the passenger seat of a car fleeing a parking lot near Millikan High School nearly three years ago.

After deliberating for almost three days, the jury was unable to find consensus over the second-degree murder charge facing the former schools officer, 54-year-old Eddie Gonzalez of Orange.

Jurors were deadlocked, 7-5, the jury foreperson told Superior Court Judge Richard M. Goul. The majority favored guilt.

Goul declared a mistrial. It was not clear Tuesday whether the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office would pursue a new trial of Gonzalez.

Prosecutors at the Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse declined comment. The D.A.’s office also did not immediately return a request for comment about whether prosecutors would continue to pursue the case.

The mistrial comes after dissecting , which he was trying to stop after just seeing the driver, Rafeul Chowdhury, and his girlfriend, Manuela “Mona” Rodriguez, fighting a Millikan student in the street outside the high school on Sept. 27, 2021.

Gonzalez fired two shots at Chowdhury’s car — one shot came from behind as the car pulled away from Gonzalez. The bullet pierced the rear passenger side window and the headrest of the passenger seat, hitting Rodriguez in the back of her head. She later died at a hospital.

The jurors watched video of the shooting over and over during the trial.

Prosecutors asked the jury to focus on the fact that Gonzalez was no longer in danger when he fired: After placing his hand on the hood while pointing his handgun at the windshield, Gonzalez sidestepped the car as Chowdhury drove forward. Gonzalez was on the side of the car when he fired the first shot, and was fully behind the vehicle when he fired the second.

Gonzalez’s attorneys, on the other hand, asked the jury to consider what the school officer would have perceived in the limited amount of time he had to react.

“This didn’t happen in slow motion,” said Michael Schwartz, the lead attorney defending Gonzalez, during his closing arguments last week. “Life doesn’t happen in slow motion.”

Immediately after the hearing Tuesday, some jurors said Schwartz convinced others on the jury that Gonzalez was still reacting to the car pushing forward and screeching its tires, even as he got out of the way, when he fired the fatal shot at Rodriguez.

“There were still certain people holding on to this idea of self-defense,” said one juror, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the case.

The juror said the five who voted not guilty on second-degree murder were all men. The juror said the seven who voted for guilt were six women and one man.

The juror, a woman, said Gonzalez’s guilt on the murder charge was clear to her.

“Absolutely,” she said. “Without a shadow of a doubt in my mind.”

Jurors appeared closer to finding Gonzalez guilty of voluntary manslaughter, the lesser charge available to them if they reached a unanimous not-guilty verdict on the second-degree murder charge.

When Goul asked about the split in the vote, the foreperson initially said the five jurors voting against second-degree murder wanted to vote for voluntary manslaughter.

But Goul told the jury they must reach a verdict on the murder charge first. Without consensus on that charge, the judge was forced to declare a mistrial.

Schwartz has defended numerous police officers accused of excess and deadly force while on the job over several decades. accused of beating Kelly Thomas to death in 2014.

Schwartz declined comment Tuesday.

“We’re looking at a retrial,” he said.

Gonzalez has been out of custody since posting bail in July 2022, six months after a judge ruled there was enough evidence to have him stand trial on a murder charge.

Gonzalez was fired from LBUSD a week after the shooting, when the school board ruled he was out of policy when he fired two shots. The shooting was caught on two cellphone videos and a surveillance camera at an L-shaped strip mall.

Rodriguez and Sabrina Ramos, a then-15-year-old Millikan student, had fought and ended up in the southbound lanes of Palo Verde Avenue when Gonzalez pulled up in a marked SUV and separated them. Gonzalez sat Ramos down on the curb and went after Rodriguez, Chowdhury and his younger brother as they got inside Chowdhury’s sedan.

Gonzalez went up to the front-passenger side of the car and slammed on the hood twice, then pointed a handgun at the windshield in an attempt to get the attention of the driver.

Videos caught the sound of screeching tires as the car started moving. Gonzalez lowered his weapon and stepped away from the car, prosecutors said, then lifted it again and fired from behind the sedan.

Schwartz also told jurors that Chowdhury lied to detectives, telling them the three were in the area from their San Pedro home to pick up a pair of Adidas shoes they had bought for their 5-month-old child through OfferUp. While driving, Chowdhury told detectives, they noticed Ramos, who had feuded with Rodriguez through social media after fighting with a relative days prior.

Instead, Schwartz said, they were specifically seeking Ramos at the high school and followed her after she left wrestling practice.

Schwartz argued Gonzalez had reason to detain the three in the car because Ramos told him they had taken her cellphone and that Rodriguez had threatened to kill her family.

But prosecutors countered that Gonzalez “responded to youthful disobedience with deadly force” — and he would stop at nothing to stop the car.

A week later, .

Gonzalez was arrested about a month later by Long Beach police on suspicion of murder.

Before being hired at Long Beach Unified in January 2021, Gonzalez had brief stints with the Los Alamitos and Sierra Madre police departments. In a civil lawsuit, Rodriguez family members claimed Gonzalez hadn’t passed the probationary period with either department and that the school district complicated matters by failing to train him properly.

Last year, an attorney representing the family announced a $13 million settlement in the case.

 

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