A Los Angeles police officer who killed a 14-year-old girl in a clothing store last December was found to have violated police department policy when he fired multiple shots during an incident at the store, including one that struck and killed the teen.
This week’s findings by the city’s police commission concern a case that shocked Los Angeles. Valentina Orellana-Peralta was killed on 23 December 2021 while shopping with her mother at a North Hollywood Burlington Coat Factory. The police officer, William Dorsey Jones Jr, opened fire at a man suspected of assaulting customers in the store. One of the bullets he fired struck and killed the teen, who was in a dressing room with her mother.
The killing of Orellana-Peralta drew widespread outrage and sparked protests and a lawsuit. It came in a particularly deadly year for civilians at the hands of the Los Angeles police – last year the LAPD killed more than double the number of civilians it did in 2020. Orellana-Peralta was one of five people killed by Los Angeles police in a nine-day period in 2021.
Activists have argued that because city police officers face few consequences, they are emboldened to carelessly use lethal force in situations where it is not warranted. In the shooting that killed Orellana-Peralta, activists and observers had questioned why Jones fired on a suspect without trying to de-escalate the situation or assessing whether bystanders could be endangered.
The police commission determined that Jones’ first shot was justified, but that the following two shots violated LAPD policy. The city police chief, Michel Moore, however, concluded that Jones was wrong to fire at all and that another officer in the same situation would not have thought deadly force was “objectively reasonable or necessary”.
The commission said the responding officers and a supervising sergeant had also used improper tactics in confronting the suspect, Daniel Elena Lopez, who was killed in the incident.
When police arrived on the scene Elena Lopez, 24, was allegedly using a bike lock to whip a woman who was on the floor with a bloodied face. Elena Lopez was at the opposite end of a store aisle from Jones and appeared to be turning away when the officer quickly fired three bullets, one of which bounced off the floor into the store dressing room where Orellana-Peralta was sheltering with her mother and hit the girl in the chest.
“She died in my arms and there was nothing I could do … She didn’t wake up,” Soledad Peralta, the teen’s mother, said. “As I lay screaming for help, the police did not come to help me or my daughter. But I kept screaming. When the police finally came, they took me out of the dressing room and left my daughter laying there. I wanted them to help her. But they just left her laying there alone.”
Orellana-Peralta’s parents have sued the LAPD and Jones for the shooting and accuse the department of fostering “an environment that allowed and permitted this shooting to occur” and failing to properly train and supervise the responding officers.
It is not yet known what consequences Jones will face.
Orellana-Peralta had moved to LA six months before the shooting. She excelled in school and dreamed of going to college and making the world a better place, Benjamin Crump, her family’s lawyer, said last year.
“Her most important dream was to become an American citizen. They came to America from Chile to get away from violence and to have a better life.”