‘All I felt was a loud bang,’ ex-student testifies about English High dean allegedly shooting him
The English High School student who was shot in the back of the head execution-style three years ago testified Friday that he was attacked by a dean who was supposed to be a confidant, but instead drew the teenager into a world of drugs and guns that nearly killed him.
Luis Rodriguez's testimony dominated the second day of Shaun O. Harrison's trial as he explained how he went, in the span of a month, from selling marijuana for the former dean to fighting for his life in a Roxbury street after Harrison allegedly shot him and fled.
"All I felt was just a loud bang and I hit the floor. And as soon as I hit the floor, I'm like dazed," Rodriguez told jurors about the shooting on March 3, 2015. "There was nobody there. Nobody there. [Harrison] was nowhere to be found."
Over several hours in Suffolk Superior Court, Rodriguez, 20, told jurors he had a dysfunctional childhood and was being raised by his grandmother in Roxbury after his mother went to jail when he was 4. He said he put his trust in Harrison, 58, who had been known before his arrest as a preacher and antiviolence activist.
"He was my counselor. I went to him for everything," Rodriguez said.
The jury saw video of Rodriguez fighting with a childhood friend in a boys bathroom at English High in Jamaica Plain on the day of the shooting and viewed footage of him speaking with his aunt from his hospital bed at Boston Medical Center as he recovered from his gunshot wound.
The bullet entered Rodriguez's head just under his right ear, narrowly missing his carotid artery, breaking his jawbone, and causing nerve damage.
"What the [expletive] did I do to [Harrison] to deserve this [expletive]," Rodriguez asked in the video recorded at BMC.
Harrison is being tried on charges of armed assault to murder and illegal possession of drugs, firearms, and ammunition. He has pleaded not guilty.
Rodriguez, then a 17-year-old sophomore, said he got off to a rough start with Harrison, who became dean of academies at English High in January 2015, but later bonded with him during an encounter in the school cafeteria. Rodriguez said he was high on marijuana during that meeting, and Harrison started to laugh.
"[Harrison] explained to me how he was just high last night," Rodriguez said. "He said, 'Yeah, man. I was high last night.' "
Rodriguez said he didn't know how to react to Harrison's disclosure. On another occasion, he said, Harrison approached him at school and asked whether he wanted to make money.
"I was confused. Because as a student, a teacher coming up to me asking me if I want to make money is kind of awkward to me," said Rodriguez.
He said Harrison offered to provide him with marijuana to sell on the condition that Rodriguez would give him the proceeds. Rodriguez said he agreed and detailed three occasions when Harrison gave him marijuana to sell.
In one instance, Rodriguez said, Harrison gave him marijuana in his office at English High.
Rodriguez also described visiting Harrison's apartment in Roxbury, where Rodriguez said he smoked marijuana with the dean and handled a firearm that Harrison showed him.
"As a young teen I was overwhelmed," Rodriguez said of holding the gun. "I remember pointing it everywhere."
But he recalled one exchange with Harrison that gave him pause. Prior to the shooting, he said, Harrison told him about marijuana going missing from his English High office. Rodriguez said he wasn't sure whether Harrison was accusing him of stealing. The timing of the conversation was unclear from Rodriguez's testimony.
Prosecutors allege Harrison attacked Rodriguez because of slumping drug sales. On the day of the shooting, however, Rodriguez said he believed he was on good terms with Harrison.
That morning, prosecutors allege Rodriguez was attacked at English High — at Harrison's direction — by the teen's longtime friend, Leudi Arias. During the fight, Arias said, "You messed it up for us," according to Rodriguez.
But during a mediation session with school officials and police, Arias said the fight was about something else, according to Rodriguez. Arias claimed Rodriguez had been making negative comments about Arias's mother.
Later that day, Rodriguez said, he met Harrison at a Sunoco station in Roxbury. Harrison planned to bring him marijuana and some of the drug Molly, Rodriguez said, and then take him to a spot to meet women.
When they reached Magazine Street, prosecutors allege Harrison fired a .380 handgun at Rodriguez, nearly killing him. Surveillance video played for the jury showed two people walking together and then one of them turning and running away.
Rodriguez said he flagged down an oncoming car and pleaded with the occupants for help. At BMC, he said, he repeatedly asked whether he would die.
"I even asked the janitor if I was going to die," Rodriguez said.
Suffolk Assistant District Attorney David Bradley asked Rodriguez who shot him.
"There's no doubt in my mind," he said. "Mr. Shaun Harrison did."
During cross-examination, defense attorney Bruce W. Carroll pressed Rodriguez to explain why he didn't tell police, the bystanders who helped him, or rescuers that Harrison had shot him in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
"It took me a while to get all my thoughts back together after being shot in the head, sir," Rodriguez said. "I was in such denial. I knew who did it. Of course I knew who did it."
Under questioning from Carroll, Rodriguez said he had experience selling marijuana before he met Harrison.
When Carroll pointed out that Rodriguez smoked marijuana before he was shot, the young man replied that his marijuana use had no bearing on his ability to identify his attacker.
Before Rodriguez testified, Ligia Noriega-Murphy, the former headmaster at English High, described telling Harrison about the shooting at school the following day.
Harrison, she said, clutched his chest, breathed heavily, and had heart palpitations.
"I actually thought he was going to have a heart attack," Noriega-Murphy said.
Testimony resumes Monday.