FREMONT (CBS SF) — The mother of a 16-year-old girl who was fatally shot last year by two Fremont police officers while they were trying to arrest her boyfriend, who was wanted for multiple armed robberies, filed a federal civil rights suit against the officers and the city Wednesday.
Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon of Antioch, who was pregnant, was shot near the City View Apartments complex at 25200 Carlos Bee Blvd. near the California State University East Bay campus at about 5:20 p.m. on March 14, 2017.
Mondragon was treated by the Hayward Fire Department at the scene and then transported to a trauma center, where she died of her injuries.
Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Robert Graff wrote in a recent lengthy report on the shooting that Mondragon’s death “was unintended and tragic” and he believes that Fremont Detective Joel Hernandez and Sgt. Jeremy Miskella “acted in lawful” self-defense when they fired shots at suspect Rico Tiger, 19, and struck her instead.
Graff said the evidence supports the conclusion that Hernandez and Miskella acted “under an actual and reasonable belief” that Tiger posed an immediate threat of death or great bodily injury to themselves and other officers by driving a stolen BMW at them while they were trying to arrest him on a warrant for multiple armed robberies in Fremont, Union City and Santa Clara County.
But Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, who represents Mondragon’s mother, Michelle Mondragon, alleged at a news conference at his office that was attended by about 20 of Mondragon’s family members, that Hernandez and Miskella “wrongfully took the life of Elena in a botched police maneuver.”
Burris said Fremont officers, who were plain-clothed undercover officers from the Southern Alameda County Major Crime Task Force, were well-armed and should have tried to arrest Tiger when he, Mondragon and two other teens were swimming at the City View Apartments complex that weekday afternoon, which was a school day.
Burris said the officers had a plan to apprehend Tiger at the pool “but blew it and afterward made up for the mistake they made by engaging in poor tactics.”
The attorney said as Tiger prepared to drive off with the other teens, an unmarked Dodge minivan and unmarked Honda Pilot pulled in front of the car and several men jumped out of the unmarked vehicles with assault rifles and did not identify themselves as police officers and weren’t wearing uniforms.
Burris said Tiger tried to drive away but he said Miskella and Hernandez opened fire on the moving car, which he said was a violation of Fremont police policy.
Burris said police officers are supposed to step out of the way of cars that are speeding toward them and aren’t supposed to shoot into a moving car unless a suspect is displaying a weapon, which he said wasn’t the case with Tiger.
Burris also said all of the six to eight officers who were part of the operation failed to activate their body-worn cameras, which he said would have recorded important video evidence of the shooting.
Although Burris said Tiger didn’t know the undercover officers were police officers, District Attorney Inspector Jason Riechers wrote in a probable cause statement that a passenger who was in the stolen BMW told police that it was clear to him that men who were in the Dodge minivan were a police task force because they had the word “police” on their chests.
Riechers also said the passenger also told police that he heard Tiger say, “Police, duck down” and heard Tiger make a comment about the police having their guns out.
The District Attorney’s Office recently charged Tiger with murder for allegedly causing Mondragon’s death by acting provocatively and with two counts of attempted murder of a police officer for allegedly trying to kill Miskella and a colleague, Fremont Officer Ghailan Chahouati.
Prosecutors also charged Tiger with vehicular manslaughter for allegedly killing Cristel Antunez-Ayala in a vehicle crash at Bancroft and 90th avenues in East Oakland on Feb. 26, 2017.
Riechers alleged Tiger was driving a stolen Audi at an estimated 90 miles per hour and that he was fleeing from Oakland police officers who suspected the vehicle was the getaway car used in the Santa Clara County robberies.
Tiger currently is in custody in Santa Clara County on a pending criminal case in which he’s charged with multiple armed robberies. He will be transported to Alameda County at a later date to face the charges he faces in the county.
City of Fremont spokeswoman Geneva Bosques said the city has no comment on the lawsuit.
Michelle Mondragon said at the news conference that she’s upset that authorities didn’t tell her that her daughter was dying.
Fighting back tears, Mondragon said, “I could have seen her and told her I loved her but she was alone.”
Elena Mondragon’s uncle, Miguel Minjares, said, “We’re broken hearted and will never be the same.”
Mondragon’s aunt, Christina Flores, said, “We’re broken and I don’t know if we’ll ever be complete.”
Flores said that feeling “is mixed with anger because we’re not getting the justice we deserve.”
The suit seeks unspecified general, special and punitive damages.
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