Moments before he was shot seven times by Monterey Park police officers, Steve Rodriguez turned in a blank math exam to a baffled East Los Angeles College math professor. He had aced two previous tests and was considered a good student. Rodriguez told his teacher,”I didn’t take the test,” and without providing any more explanation, he left the classroom.
Fifteen minutes later, at around 9:15 am, Rodriguez was seen with an “angry expression on his face,” smashing in the windows of a nearby Carl’s Jr. fast food restaurant using what was reported to be a ax, but turned out to be a heavy, metal pipe. When Monterey Park police officers responded, they saw people running out of the eatery yelling for help, giving them the initial impression that a “bomb had exploded inside the restaurant.”
These details revealing what authorities believe happened during the last hour of Rodriguez’s life were part of the findings released by the District Attorney’s office in an Aug. 7 letter closing the case. The letter was first made available to EGP last week.
County prosecutors will not be pressing charges against Monterey Park Officer Everado Romo and Agent Peter Palomino for the Jan. 23 shooting death of Rodriguez, an East Los Angeles College student.
The officers “acted lawfully in self-defense and defense of others,” according to the letter explaining why the district attorney’s office will not be pressing charges. Most officer-involved in shooting cases are not prosecuted.
Officers are allowed to use deadly force against someone they feel poses an “imminent danger of great bodily injury or death,” according to the D.A.’s letter.
According to the report, tasers failed to deter Rodriguez from advancing on Monterey Park police. When Palomino saw Rodriguez raise the pipe at his partner’s head, he responded by unloading five rounds at him. Romo fearing that Rodriguez was reaching for another weapon, fired another five rounds. They handcuffed Rodriguez, and he was transported to Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center where he was pronounced dead at 9:59 p.m. According to the coroner’s investigation, Rodriguez died of seven gunshot wounds to his torso. There were no traces of alcohol or drugs in his system.
The report also mentions “several individuals” at Tommy’s Restaurant, a diner located a block away, who sustained “non-life-threatening” injuries from stray bullets originating from the officers’ guns.
The D.A.’s conclusions were based on investigative reports, evidence reports, and witness statements obtained during investigations by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Monterey Park Police Department.
The officer-involved shooting was caught on video by a bystander who shared it on the website, YouTube.com . The incident attracted the attention of fellow ELAC students and community members who accused Monterey Park police of using excessive force in dealing with Rodriguez, usually citing the number of gunshots. Some showed up at city council meetings to demand an independent investigation beyond the one being conducted by the Sheriff’s Department.
When asked for comment regarding the findings, Monterey Park Police Chief Jim Smith said he is “limited” on what he can say since there is the “threat of civil litigation in the matter.” He added the district attorney’s office “found the officers acted appropriately, and their report speaks for itself.”
The city received four claims in March and April stemming from the shooting. Two are from victims injured by stray bullets, one of whom said she sustained a bullet wound to her neck, and the other said flying broken glass cut the back of her head while she was sitting in a booth. The two other claims were submitted by Rodriguez’s parents, though the attorney listed on the claims, Luis Carrillo, told EGP recently that he is no longer involved in the case. Monterey Park’s Human Resources and Risk Management Director Tom Cody says when they receive claims, “it would be the beginning of a civil litigation, not always, but it’s possible.”