Hayward, California – A family is suing the city of Fremont and its police department one year after their 16-year-old daughter was shot and killed by police when officers opened fire on the car she was riding in, and the department blamed her death on the driver.
Elena Mondragon, who was pregnant and unarmed, was sitting in the passenger seat of the car with her cousin and two of their friends when they were followed by two undercover police officers dressed in plain clothes.
The officers, who were also driving an unmarked car, claimed that one of the boys in the group, Rico Tiger, 19, was a suspect in multiple armed robberies and the BMW they were in was a stolen car. While the officers were already conducting surveillance around the apartment complex and they claimed they intended to confront their target before he left the area, their plan failed.
Because the officers were in plainclothes and they were driving what appeared to be a regular car, the driver of the car Mondragon was in claimed the group thought they were being followed or robbed, so they began to accelerate to get away from the other car.
Fremont Sgt. Jeremy Miskella and Detective Joel Hernandez responded by opening fire on the vehicle, and they used their AR-15’s to fire a multitude of bullets at the vehicle. While they did not strike their intended target, they did hit Mondragon. In a statement reported by NBC Bay Area, John Burris, an attorney for the family, criticized the fatal decisions made by the officers.
“Shockingly, officers engaged in a series of egregious tactical errors and contravened their training and basic common sense, which resulted in an outrageous loss of innocent life,” Burris said.
He also called out the Alameda County District Attorney for charging Tiger with Mondragon’s murder—while refusing to file charges against the two officers who actually killed her and who “acted with reckless disregard for department policy, safe tactics and human life.”
In response to the shooting, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Robert Graff acknowledged that Mondragon’s death was “unintended and tragic,” but insisted that Hernandez and Miskella acted lawfully and successfully defended themselves when they opened fire on Tiger—even though they executed Mondragon and her unborn child instead.
Burris questioned why the officers conveniently failed to turn on their Body Cameras, even though they had been conducting surveillance around the area and were planning on confronting and arresting Tiger. In addition to the lack of footage from police, there were no cell phone videos recorded by anyone who witnessed the shooting, and Mondragon’s family believes that the lack of footage resulted in a lack of media coverage.
“When there’s no video, that’s a battle for us. People just tend to believe what is reported by the police. The public just takes it at face value, and it just sort of disappears,” Melissa Nold, another attorney for Mondragon’s family, told the Guardian.
In the year that has passed since Elena Mondragon and her unborn child were murdered on March 14, 2017, Sgt. Miskella and Detective Hernandez have returned to their jobs and are now free to carry out similar atrocities, forever influencing the lives of innocent citizens.
As Burris announced the lawsuit, surrounded by nearly two dozen relatives who gathered to remember Mondragon, he said, “It is unconscionable. What has happened here is a cover-up for that botched police work.”