LOS ANGELES—The police officer who inadvertently shot a 14-year-old girl to death while confronting a suspect at a Burlington store in North Hollywood had recently completed a course on how to handle an active shooter situation and was properly following his training, the officer’s union told City News Service on Jan. 2.
Officer William Jones, 42, has been placed on administrative leave while multiple agencies investigate the shooting, which occurred on Dec. 23 as police responded to reports of a suspect randomly attacking customers in the store at 12121 Victory Blvd.
Police fatally shot 24-year-old Daniel Elena Lopez in the incident, while 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.
Jones, a 10-year Los Angles Police Department veteran worked as a community relations officer and also helped at a nonprofit that mentored at-risk youth.
The LAPD released body camera and surveillance footage of the entire violent incident last week.
Tom Saggau, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), said he had questions after watching the footage, in which some of Jones’s fellow officers appear to tell him to “slow down” and “hold up” as he moves to the front of a police formation while holding a rifle moments before the fatal shooting.
But Saggau told CNS that after doing his own investigating, including talking with Jones, he learned that the officer had completed a one-day course on active shooters just two weeks before the incident.
Saggau said parts of the video were being misinterpreted by some.
The pleas to “slow down” were actually meant to ensure that Jones would “keep alert, be looking, swivel your head,” etc., to thoroughly assess the situation while scanning multiple aisles in the store, Saggau said.
Additionally, Jones moved to the front of the formation because he was holding the long rifle, which is the most accurate weapon in the formation and the one that is supposed to take the lead, Saggau said.
“You don’t want a long rifle behind you if people [officers] are trying to move quickly and get away,” Saggau said.
The union spokesman said the course, taught by personnel from the LAPD’s Metropolitan Division, was part of the department’s transition from the “wait, surround, contain” approach in use during the 1999 Columbine high school shooting in Colorado to a more pro-active philosophy in which officers try to neutralize dangerous suspects.
Although Elena Lopez didn’t have a gun, initial 911 callers were unclear about that, leading police to believe they might be dealing with a suspect who was armed with a firearm.
On Jan. 2, a coalition of civil rights groups called for Jones to be arrested and prosecuted. Civil rights activist Najee Ali of Operation Hope told CNS that at a minimum, he would like to see 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 said he had not tried to reach out to Jones.
“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.”
But the LAPPL’s board of directors defended the officer.
“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,” the union said.
“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.”
The LAPD’s Force Investigation Division and Inspector General’s Office are 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.