A coalition of civil rights groups is calling for the arrest and prosecution of the police officer who inadvertently shot a 14-year-old girl to death while confronting a suspect at a North Hollywood Burlington store.
Najee Ali of Operation Hope told City News Service on Sunday that at a minimum, he would like to see Officer William Jones charged with involuntary manslaughter, similar to the charge against former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter, who was convicted in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright. Potter said she mistook her gun for a Taser.
Ali and other Latino and African American civil rights activists planned a news conference Sunday afternoon outside LAPD headquarters, where they will also announce a formal request to meet with Police Chief Michel Moore to discuss “policies and procedures that contributed to both deaths in this tragic incident.”
Officer William Jones, 42, has been placed on administrative leave while authorities investigate the shooting, which occurred two days before Christmas as police responded to reports of a suspect randomly attacking customers in the store at 12121 Victory Blvd.
A suspect later identified as 24-year-old Daniel Elena Lopez entered the store with his bicycle at around 11 a.m. and shortly began beating customers with his bike chain lock, leaving one woman bloodied on the floor as officers arrived. Witnesses who called 911 were unsure whether the suspect had a gun.
Police fatally shot Elena Lopez, but a bullet fired by Jones pierced a wall and killed young Valentina Orellana-Peralta as she took shelter in a fitting room with her mother.
Ali believes that Jones should be held accountable for the death. Although he planned to ask for a meeting with Moore, Ali told CNS that he had not reached out to the officer who fired the fatal shot.
“There’s nothing that he can say, and there’s nothing that I want to hear,” Ali said. “At the end of the day, we do believe that it was an accident, we do believe he’s sorry for what he did, but those feelings will not bring (Orellana-Peralta) back to life. For our coalition, it’s about accountability.”
Jones is a 10-year LAPD veteran who worked as a community relations officer, ran a nonprofit that mentored at-risk youth and helped coach the Valencia Vikings high school football team, the New York Times reported.
The officer has not commented on the shooting, but his attorney Leslie Wilcox told reporters last week that he was “truly devastated at the results of the officer-involved shooting, as heartbroken a man as you can imagine. He was acting the way he was trained to do. It’s hard for him to see it as it is being portrayed.”
The board of directors of the Los Angeles Police Protective League released the following statement to CNS: “We certainly empathize with the pain that Valentina Orellana-Peralta’s family is experiencing following this accident, but to see the usual anti-police activists attempt to politicize this incident is truly disappointing. These misguided activists forget the deadly lessons learned from massacres such as the Columbine High School tragedy; delay in responding to a potential active shooter could result in a mass casualty event. Officer Jones was responding to several 911 calls reporting an active shooter, he followed his training and a horrible accident occurred.
“There have been over a dozen people shot and several killed since New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles and not a peep from these activists about what they are going to do about it,” the statement continued. “Instead of instantly pointing fingers at an officer when there is an accident, these activists ought to be looking into a mirror and asking themselves the difficult questions of why they have been unable to slow or stop the carnage of Black and Hispanic young people in our neighborhoods. Because whatever it is these activists are promoting or saying they are doing, isn’t stopping the violence.”
Tom Saggau, a spokesman for the police union, told the New York Times last week that Jones “is somebody who, four days ago, everybody in our country would be wanting to hire.”
The Los Angeles Times has reported that Elena Lopez had convictions for car theft, carrying a loaded gun in public and carrying a gun as a felon.
The newspaper also reported that he was arrested in the San Fernando Valley in August 2020 and charged with domestic battery, stealing a car and recklessly fleeing the police, later pleading guilty to domestic battery and fleeing police and sentenced to two years in state prison.
But Ali said the suspect’s criminal history was not to blame for the tragic events inside the store.
“I do believe DA (George) Gascon is doing a tremendous job reforming the criminal justice system in a way that’s fair. Obviously this situation is an aberration,” Ali told CNS. “We believe that this violent suspect certainly had mental health issues. We believe that the LAPD failed in that regard, not bringing in mental health experts to (help resolve the situation).”
“… At the end of the day, there’s only one person to blame, and that’s the LAPD officer, William Jones.”
Last week, Orellana-Peralta’s parents called for full transparency in the various investigations in a tearful news conference outside LAPD headquarters.
“As I lay screaming for help, the police did not come to help me or my daughter, but I kept screaming,” Valentina’s mother, Soledad Peralta, said. “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.”
Speaking through translators, they said their daughter came to Los Angeles from Chile about six months ago and had dreams of becoming an engineer, an American citizen and going to see a Los Angeles Lakers game with her father.
“She wanted to be here in the United States because this was the land of opportunity, and she was excited about that,” attorney Erica Contreras said, translating for Valentina’s father, Juan Pablo Orellana Larenas.
“The only thing that he has left for him now is to seek justice for his daughter. He will not rest until justice for his daughter is served,” Contreras added.
Valentina attended High Tech Los Angeles Charter School, where she had just passed her math and physics exams.
Attorney Rahul Ravipudi said the family’s lawyers sent a preservation of evidence letter to the LAPD “so that we actually can have transparency on all of the evidence and all of the information, so that the LAPD doesn’t drive the narrative on what they did. We can expose that truth ourselves.”
Ravipudi said the letter was sent immediately after the shooting “to make sure that all of that evidence is saved” and available to attorneys throughout the investigation.
While police released body-worn camera footage of the shooting Monday, attorney Ben Crump said Tuesday that attorneys believe there is also surveillance video from the Burlington store itself, which they are trying to access. Some surveillance video clips were released by the LAPD on Monday.
“This chaotic incident resulting in the death of an innocent child is tragic and devastating for everyone involved,” Chief Moore said in a statement in the aftermath of the shooting. “I am profoundly sorry for the loss of this young girl’s life and I know there are no words that can relieve the unimaginable pain for the family. My commitment is to conduct a thorough, complete and transparent investigation into the circumstances that led up to this tragedy and provide the family and public with as much information as possible.”
Moore told The Times it did not appear that the officer who fired “would have known that there was anyone behind there or that he was looking at anyone other than the suspect and a wall,” but said every aspect of what occurred and why would be analyzed by LAPD investigators.
The LAPD’s Force Investigation Division and Inspector General’s Office were both investigating the shooting, along with the California Department of Justice’s California Police Shooting Investigation Team for Southern California. The DOJ investigates officer shootings under provisions of a bill signed into law last year.
Once the investigation has been completed, the results will be turned over to the California Department of Justice’s Special Prosecutions Section within the Criminal Law Division for independent review.