Earlier versions of this story ran in Eastern Group Publications
At a vigil for a student who Monterey Park Police killed last week, friends and family recalled a loving, computer whiz and aspiring biologist — painting a very different picture from the pipe-wielding criminal that police allege they were forced to shoot out of self defense.
“I wish you guys knew him. I wish you were close to him so you knew who he really was,” said Daniel Rodriguez of his younger brother Steven, who was shot 10 times on January 26 in front of a Carl's Jr.
Steven Rodriguez grew up in the Alhambra area and attended Garvey Intermediate School in Rosemead. Friends and family said the 22 year old, who recently moved with his family to Chino Hills, wanted to transfer from East Los Angeles College to a university to study biology.
A YouTube video recording Rodriguez walking out of the Carl's Jr, pipe raised, and then getting shot point blank, has been viewed by more than 1 million people, and helped fuel public outcry.
Police report that officers are trained to tell a suspect to drop a weapon, but if a weapon is pointed toward a police officer, then an officer “fearing for his life, will use deadly force to take down the suspect.”
The Sheriff’s homicide bureau is now handling the investigation and the Los Angeles County District Attorney will determine if the shooting was “within policy,” according to Monterey Park Lieutenant Jeff Alvarado.
Four police officers responded to a call around 9:30 am Monday reporting that an adult male was breaking windows at the fast food restaurant on Cesar Chavez Avenue. When police arrived, several patrons ran out of the restaurant, followed by the man brandishing a three-foot long metal bar, according to Monterey Park Police and the Sheriff’s Department.
The man did not listen when officers ordered him several times to drop the pipe, and an attempt to use a Taser stun gun on him produced no effect, said authorities. Rodriguez allegedly then approached one of the police officers, swinging the metal bar twice at him. He was subsequently shot by another police officer, who was “fearing for their safety,” according to a Sheriff’s report. Rodriguez was pronounced dead at the hospital.
At the vigil the family challenged the description. Daniel Rodriguez said his brother was a fun loving person who would have never hurt anyone. “He had the chance, but he chose not to [hurt anyone at Carl’s Jr]," he said. "There was a reason he was calm when he went and just broke the windows, and didn’t try to rob and hurt anyone.”
An aunt said she had known Rodriguez since he was nine years old, and recalled serving him enchiladas at a family gathering. Another relative called Rodriguez “a happy-go-lucky person.”
Rodriguez was also a pro with computers, said one friend. “He would help people who would get a virus, get a blue screen," family friend Alberto Trevino said. "People would bring their computers and he would bring them back to life.”
Trevino added that Rodriguez just seemed like your average kid: “Tom Sawyer kind of kid… a little rambunctious, but that’s normal… maybe some would say he was a little nerdy, nothing wrong with that.”
Though Rodriguez’s family have shied away from making political statements – they said Rodriguez was not overtly political – the East Los Angeles College students who organized the vigil, and many area residents who attended, said they have had personal experience with excessive force and racial profiling by police.
“With everything [police] do, there are certain stuff like racial profiling, if you look a certain way, they give you a hard time,” said East Los Angeles College student Violet Bueno, 20.
She did not know Rodriguez, but was moved to attend his vigil. “It’s not the first time [police have] done stuff like this. The cops who were involved need to get in trouble for this, not just walk away, nothing,” she said.
In a brief speech to those in attendance at the vigil, Rodriguez’s stricken father, Martin Garcia, still fresh from the loss, managed to let out, “he was the best kid… I have no more words… I’m sorry about this, I cannot stay here,” before breaking down in tears.