ANTIOCH — Civil rights attorney John Burris is filing a federal lawsuit on Wednesday on behalf of the mother of a pregnant, 16-year-old girl who was fatally shot by officers from the Fremont Police Department last year.
“We have real concerns about the police officers’ conduct, which was extremely reckless, negligent and done with disregard for human lives,” Burris said. “Police, without any regard for the occupants in the car, shot into a moving car, contrary to good police practices, resulting in the death of Elena, who was an innocent person.”
On March 14, 2017, 16-year-old Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon of Antioch was fatally shot by two Fremont police officers who were part of a multi-jurisdictional task force that was tasked with arresting the driver. Neither the driver, nor the two other occupants of the car were hit, but Mondragon was struck five times — in the chest, right arm and left leg.
Michelle Mondragon, Elena’s mother, still struggles with the loss of her daughter a year later. When she speaks of “Ebbie,” it’s in the present tense. Michelle’s sister, Christina Flores, spoke when her sister couldn’t.
“Every day without her is hard. We feel we got robbed and that it was so preventable,” Flores said. “She should’ve been taken care of by the police… They are not being held accountable.”
In early March, the Alameda County District Attorney’s office released a report that cleared two Fremont police officers in the case and charged the driver of the vehicle, 19-year-old Rico Tiger, with Elena Mondragon’s murder.
On March 14, 2017, Fremont police were asked to assist the Southern Alameda County Major Crimes Task Force with arresting Tiger who had a warrant out for several armed robberies in Santa Clara and Alameda counties.
Investigators tracked a stolen BMW they believed Tiger was driving to the City View Apartments at 25200 Carlos Bee Blvd. in Hayward.
Officers from the major crimes task force and Fremont police arrived at the entrance to City View Apartments on Camden Circle, a small dead-end street and watched and waited for their suspect. At 5:18 p.m., they saw Tiger leave and enter the car with three others. Undercover officers in a Dodge Grand Caravan drove up five feet from the stolen BMW and blocked it in. Another officer pulled up in a Honda Pilot and pulled up just behind the Dodge.
According to the DA’s report, all of the officers were wearing plain-clothes, wearing tactical vests with a yellow star or shield over the left breast and were armed with AR-15-styled rifles, with the exception of one canine officer.
Tiger claimed that he did not realize the cars blocking him in were police officers and reversed the BMW roughly 90 feet, then accelerated toward the driver’s side door of the lead van, according to the DA’s report.
One officer narrowly avoided being hit when the BMW struck the open door of the van. When the BMW veered toward another officer, Sgt. Jeremy Miskella, both Miskella and Det. Joel Hernandez fired on the vehicle.
The vehicle veered away from Miskella, and Tiger tried to escape and was chased by other officers. Tiger eventually collided head-on with a pickup truck on Carlos Bee Boulevard.
Two officers involved did not turn on their body cameras and three others were not wearing them, according to the district attorney’s report. Fremont police declined to answer questions, citing pending litigation.
Fremont police’s use-of-force policy says “Officers should move out of the path of an approaching vehicle instead of discharging their firearm at the vehicle or any of its occupants.” This matches U.S. Department of Justice policy.
However, the policy allows for situations where the “officer reasonably believes there are no other reasonable means available to avert the threat of the vehicle.”
“There is no justification for shooting into a moving car with four young people in there when you just blocked it off,” Burris said on Tuesday.
Michelle Mondragon said her daughter didn’t want to be there. She had received a call from Elena, and Michelle’s boyfriend went to the Hayward BART station to pick her up, but could not reach her.
When Michelle Mondragon speaks of the police and the investigation, it is with bewilderment and frustration.
“It hurts to accept that no one has owned it,” Michelle Mondragon said.
She said she was not told until the next morning and that it still hurts to know that she may have had a chance to see her daughter before she died and said that Elena was “still alive for hours.”
Family members said that they would have had the chance to pray for Elena Mondragon had they known.