Police board rules officer broke policy in fatal department store shooting

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Police board rules officer broke policy in fatal department store shooting
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The Los Angeles police officer who inadvertently killed a teenage girl when he shot an attacker in a North Hollywood Department article late last year was justified in shooting his gun once, but was wrong to keep shooting, the city’s police commission said Tuesday.

In coming to its conclusion, a split commission broke with LAPD Chief Michel Moore, who recommended the commission find Officer William Dorsey Jones Jr.’s decision to shoot was unreasonable and violated LAPD policy. on deadly force.

The rulings brought closure to an exceptionally tragic episode, in which a bullet fired by Jones inside a Burlington Coat Factory store missed its target and killed 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta, who was hiding in a lodge with her. mother. Valentina’s death sent an outpouring of grief from Los Angeles to her native Chile and prompted Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to promise her mother that the city would provide “transparency and justice” in reconstructing the events that led up to to his murder.

In a report to the commission summarizing the findings of a thorough internal investigation into the Dec. 23 incident, Moore wrote that he believed another officer in Jones’ place would not have believed that lethal force was “proportionate, objectively reasonable or necessary”.

In a 3-2 vote in a closed session, however, the commission disagreed with Moore, finding the first of three shots Jones fired with a rifle was within the rules of the department on the use of force.

All but one of the commissioners voted to accept Moore’s recommendation that the second and third strikes were against department policy.

Moore’s report did not specify which of Jones’ blows struck Valentina, and it is not known whether LAPD investigators have determined this.

The board also ruled that the tactics used by five officers and a supervising sergeant when confronting the attacker were inappropriate.

It is unclear which officers’ tactics the commission found insufficient because the panel did not name any officers when announcing its findings. Moore’s report, however, included the names of the officers. In it, the chief concluded that Jones’ tactics were flawed, in part because he did not learn from other officers at the scene that the suspect was not armed with a firearm, such as the reported a 911 caller.

The decision to discipline Jones and any of the other officers, and in what manner, now rests with Moore.

The attacker, Daniel Elena-Lopez, had assaulted customers in the department store with a bicycle lock and was holding the lock when Jones shot him. Video of the shooting showed Jones rushing past other officers as they searched for Elena-Lopez and encountering a critically injured woman in an alley. Seeing Elena-Lopez at the end of the fairway, Jones then fired three shots in quick succession.

Jones told department investigators he believed he only fired twice and did so because he believed Elena-Lopez was raising her arm with what the officer perceived to be a handgun. fire. The department’s investigation revealed that Jones had actually fired three shots, from a distance of approximately 16 feet.

In the same interview, he said he overheard his fellow officers telling him to slow down before the shooting, but then saw the woman Elena-Lopez assaulted and rushed to her side, believing she had been shot.

Jones told investigators he believed the wall behind Elena-Lopez was an exterior brick wall that would stop any stray bullets. In fact, there were locker rooms behind the thin drywall and one of the bullets jumped off the floor, tearing through the wall and hitting Valentina. She died within minutes, according to Moore’s report.

Moore also criticized the tactics of Sgt. Jerald Case, one of the first responders on the scene. As a senior officer, the chief wrote in his report, Case should have taken a more active role leading the other officers into the store to confront Elena-Lopez.

The incident has rekindled calls for fundamental changes to the city’s police force, with many critics calling for Jones to be criminally charged. Some critics said Tuesday’s decision sent the wrong message.

The board’s decision was “really an attempt to split the difference” in an encounter in which the actions of the police seemed indefensible, according to Los executive director Pete White. Angeles Community Action Network.

“I don’t believe there was a shooting that could be considered warranted,” White said.

An autopsy revealed that Elena-Lopez was taking methamphetamine at the time he was shot. He had been the subject of several 911 calls earlier in the day. The report highlighted the chaotic scene that later ensued at the Burlington store, where employees and customers called 911 for help. At least one of the calls reported a man shooting inside the store.

Earlier this summer, Valentina’s parents filed a lawsuit against the city, Jones, the LAPD and Burlington Stores Inc.

In their complaint, Soledad Peralta and Juan Pablo Orellana Larenas accused the LAPD of failing to “adequately train and supervise” the officers who confronted Elena-Lopez in the department store.

“Most importantly, within the Los Angeles Police Department, there was and is a custom, policy, and practice … that fostered an environment that allowed and enabled this shooting to occur,” reads the statement. the trial.

Elena-Lopez’s family filed their own wrongful death lawsuit against the department, alleging the 24-year-old was no longer a threat to public safety when police arrived.

The case is still under investigation by the California Attorney General and the Inspector General of the Police Commission.

California Daily Newspapers

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