Footage released Friday from a body camera worn by a Fullerton police officer who fatally shot a 17-year-old girl shows the teen pointing what police say was a replica handgun at the officer prior to the shooting.
The footage, which was released by the Fullerton Police Department after it was shared with the family of 17-year-old Hannah Williams, also shows the replica handgun lying on the Riverside (91) Freeway as the wounded teen writhes in pain on the roadway.
The girl’s relatives opted against watching the footage, but their attorney, Lee Merritt, did watch it.
“They had no desire to watch the tragic last moments” of Williams’s life, Merritt told reporters at a news conference outside the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
The family met with District Attorney Todd Spitzer prior to the footage being publicly released.
The police department also released audio of a 911 call placed by Williams’ father the day of the shooting, reporting that his daughter had taken his rental SUV — a Dodge Durango — and gone missing. In the call, Benson Williams tearfully told a dispatcher that his daughter was on anti-depressants and he was worried that she might try to hurt herself.
Williams’ family has raised questions about the propriety of the shooting, which occurred about 7 p.m. Friday on the 91 Freeway east of Kraemer Boulevard, insisting the teen was unarmed at the time.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, a replica handgun designed to look like a Beretta 92FS handgun was recovered at the scene of the shooting. A representative of Williams’ family said earlier this week that relatives did not know where the fake weapon came from.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, which is assisting in the investigation of the shooting, the officer was driving east on the 91 Freeway and saw the teen driver, who was also eastbound, speeding near Glassell Avenue and at some point “the two vehicles made physical contact.”
On the video released by police, the officer tells a dispatcher a “car just TC’d (crashed) into me on purpose,” and that “I’ve got a female driver who’s uncooperative.”
The footage shows the officer exiting his patrol vehicle and walking around the SUV the teen was driving. As he comes around the vehicle, the teen can be seen in a “shooting stance” and pointing something — believed to be the replica weapon — at the officer. The officer then opens fire, and the teen collapses on the freeway.
“Please help me, please,” the teen cries out as the officer approaches her. As she’s being handcuffed, she says, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”
Merritt told reporters the family was frustrated over the past week about not being given information about the shooting. Merritt said Spitzer agreed there is room for improvement in conveying information to relatives of suspects involved in officer-involved shootings.
“He acknowledged that there’s got to be a better way,” Merritt said. “They should not be left in the dark.”
Merritt said if the family had known Williams assumed a “shooting stance” prior to the officer opening fire it would have helped them get a handle on what happened, Merritt said.
“If they knew that from the beginning it would have given them more closure,” Merritt said. “They can sleep better tonight knowing they have some answers.”
As for the officer who shot Williams, Merritt said the family recognizes that he had a split-second decision to make.
“We can’t exonerate him at this point but we certainly can’t condemn him,” he said.
The family planned to pick up the teen’s body Friday night and begin making funeral arrangements.
The attorney would not get into specifics of Williams’ mental health issues, but he acknowledged she was on medication and was struggling at the time. But Merritt added she was having an “exceptionally good day” in the hours prior to the shooting.
Spitzer said his office is “exploring options on how to release preliminary information to family members and the public while preserving the integrity of our investigation.”
Williams’ family this week called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to order Attorney General Xavier Becerra to conduct a civil-rights investigation into the shooting.
Williams, who worked as a lifeguard at Knott’s Berry Farm, moved to Southern California less than a year ago with her family from Phoenix.
According to her family, Williams considered community service an “integral part” of her life, “as exemplified by her work as a lifeguard, her commitment to save lives.” The teen also “loved volunteering at community healthcare with her parents.”
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