Fremont Withholds Records of Fatal Police Shooting of Pregnant Teenager, Despite New Transparency Laws

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Elena Mondragon was killed on March 14, 2017. - PHOTO FROM THE MONDRAGON FAMILY'S FACEBOOK PAGE
  • Photo from the Mondragon family's Facebook page
  • Elena Mondragon was killed on March 14, 2017.
The city of Fremont issued a blanket denial today to a Public Records Act request seeking records of a controversial 2017 police shooting, despite two new laws that were intended to provide greater transparency.

Elena "Ebbie" Mondragon was shot and killed by two Fremont detectives during a chaotic attempted arrest on March 14, 2017 in Hayward.

SB 1421 and AB 748, both signed into law last year, were intended to allow the public to inspect investigative records and videos of police shootings. But Fremont's attorneys cited what they believe are several exemptions to the laws to justify withholding records.

Mondragon was killed when two Fremont police officers fired into a moving vehicle that she was a passenger in. The police had been pursuing several robbery suspects and eventually tracked them down at an apartment complex near Cal State East Bay where they were swimming. The suspects, who were accompanied by Mondragon and her cousin, left the pool and got into a stolen BMW to leave. The police attempted to box them in with several vehicles and held them at gunpoint, but Rico Tiger, one of the suspects who was behind the wheel of the car, sped through a police roadblock.

Detective Joel Hernandez and Sgt. Jeremy Miskella opened fire on the moving vehicle with rifles. They missed Tiger and instead struck Mondragon. She died shortly after while Tiger and another suspect fled the scene on foot.

The Fremont Police Department's use of force policy states that firing at a moving vehicle is "rarely effective," and that officers should move out of the path of cars instead of shooting.

The only details about the incident that have been made public to date are contained in a report written by several district attorney's inspectors in February 2018, and charging documents later filed in Alameda County Superior Court after Tiger was apprehended.

The DA's inspectors determined that the shooting was justified because Tiger almost ran over the police officers.

The district attorney is charging Tiger with vehicular manslaughter in Mondragon's death. Tiger is also being charged with the attempted murder of Miskella and Hernandez, as well other crimes.

Immediately following the shooting, Mondragon's family called for the police to release more information about the incident. They criticized the officer's actions and questioned whether it was necessary to shoot into the car. Mostly, however, they asked for transparency in the investigation.

Fremont and Hayward police declined to make information available to the family, citing ongoing investigations and the confidentiality of police personnel records.

The Fremont police conducted their own investigation of the incident to determine if any officers violated city policies during the stakeout and shooting. This internal report, regardless of its findings, would include a comprehensive analysis of the stakeout, and the attempted arrest and shooting of Mondragon. It would also include surveillance videos of the area that may have captured parts of the incident. It's unclear if any of the officers at the scene of the shooting had body cameras turned on at the time. Hayward's police chief said in 2017 that there were no videos of the shooting, however. Nevertheless, Fremont's internal investigation could answer many questions about the incident.

SB 1421 and AB 748 were written by State Sen. Nancy Skinner and Assemblymember Phil Ting in response to public demands that police disclose more information about officer-involved shootings. Then Gov. Jerry Brown signed both bills into law last year.

But in a response to a Public Records Act request filed on Jan. 1 by the Express, Fremont officials declined to hand over the internal affairs files as well as any other records related to the shooting.

Fremont City Attorney Harvey Levine wrote that the internal affairs investigation of Mondragon's shooting will continue to be withheld because her family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city. That lawsuit is being paused until the criminal prosecution of Tiger and other suspects is completed.

Fremont also declined to make public any records of possible discipline against the officers who were at the scene of the shooting. The city's denial letter stated that they have "no records which are not exempt from disclosure as public records," therefore it's unclear if any officers were found to have violated any policies.

Read the full letter from Fremont below.

See related PDF BondGraham_PRA_response_letter_OIS_01022019.docx.pdf

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