Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Thursday he promised “transparency and justice” to the mother of Valentina Orellana-Peralta, the 14-year-old who was fatally shot by a Los Angeles police officer inside a North Hollywood store two days before Christmas.
Speaking to reporters at a downtown fire station, both Garcetti and Police Chief Michel Moore called the killing “unimaginable.” They said three investigations into the shooting would go beyond the conduct of Officer William Dorsey Jones Jr. to also examine Los Angeles Police Department policies, practices and standards for using deadly force.
Jones fired three rounds at a suspect holding a bicycle lock inside a Burlington clothing store, and one of the bullets penetrated the wall and struck the girl. Valentina died in her mother’s arms inside a changing room. The suspect, later identified as Daniel Elena-Lopez, 24, was also killed.
“We will look comprehensively at everything from training to tactics, policies and the incident itself,” Garcetti said. “We are continually handling it with maximum transparency, sensitivity and accountability. This is something that we will need to have outcomes that address what happened. I have learned to not prejudge those but to make sure those are transparent.”
The Dec. 23 shooting has sparked outrage and debate about police response in tense, crowded situations. Elena-Lopez had assaulted customers with a bicycle lock and was holding the lock at the time of the shooting, according to police body camera video of the incident. Officers had received inaccurate reports of an active shooter inside the store. It is unclear whether Jones knew that Elena-Lopez did not have a gun.
The LAPD released a video last week that included surveillance and body camera footage and 911 calls. In it, Jones rushes past other police officers, one of whom shouts, “Hold up! Hold up!” Jones then stands over a bleeding woman who had been attacked by Elena-Lopez as the assailant moves away at the opposite end of an aisle.
Jones fires three times, and then the shrieks of Valentina‘s mother in a nearby fitting room can be heard. The California attorney general, the police commission inspector general and the LAPD are all investigating the killing.
The LAPD shot at least 37 people in 2021, killing 18 of them, — substantially more than they shot or killed in either of the last two years, according to LAPD data.
Garcetti, who apart from a brief comment to The Times and a statement given to reporters who requested it, had remained mostly silent publicly on the shooting.
“I have been laser-focused on trying to make sure we wrap our arms around this family,” he said Thursday. “This horrific tragedy, as I talked about the day after, there are no words that will bring Valentina back. Life for her mother, for her family, will never be the same. As a father, father of a daughter, it is something that consumed my thoughts over the Christmas break.”
“I know for officers who went in thinking they’d be saving lives, the depth of the suffering that they feel too is unimaginable,” he continued. “But nothing is as bad as losing your daughter, losing a member of your family. I promised Valentina’s mother and the family when I spoke with her two things: transparency and justice.”
The transparency pledges comes after Ben Crump, a nationally renowned civil rights lawyer representing the family, demanded the city be more forthcoming.
“We want all the documentation, complete transparency, not just a perspective that tries to justify things,” Crump said last week. “We want everything released.”
After 911 calls came in that Thursday morning, police were dispatched, and by noon a small group of officers with guns drawn had filed up the double escalator to the store’s second floor, where they encountered Elena-Lopez, and Jones quickly shot him.
Officers were using an approach that has come to define police responses to “active shooter” situations in the 22 years since the Columbine High School shooting, which left 15 dead in Colorado, including the two students responsible for the attack.
In a mass-shooting scenario, officers rushing in to kill or arrest a shooter can reduce the potential death toll of a heavily armed assailant. But in cases such as the one at Burlington, where the suspect turned out not to have a gun, the tactic raises serious questions.
Moore told reporters on Thursday: “We are not passing any judgment on this, but everything is on the table for being looked at, not just what happened and judgment and decisions that were made, but our policies and procedures and what we have as a standard for trying to protect people in at times a very violent society.”
In the wake of the tragedy, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League said Jones had attended mass-casualty training just weeks before the Burlington shooting, and that the formation in which he took the lead with a military-style rifle was part of the department’s approach to an active shooter.
Moore, like Garcetti, repeatedly emphasized his empathy with Valentina‘s family.
“This is a loss that cannot be measured,” he said. “As to the enormity, as police professionals, we are sworn to protect and serve. There’s no greater circumstance than to lose an innocent victim and lose a child while we are trying to come to the aid of people in that store in this crisis moment. It is unimaginable.”
Moore said his investigators on the shooting are giving state Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta’s team “full unencumbered access to our investigation.”