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Criminal Justice

Calls For Justice At The Funeral For LAPD Shooting Victim Valentina Orellana Peralta

Large flower arrangements sit on and near Valentina Orellana Peralta's coffin. A large photographs of her stands on easels on either side of the coffin. A drum set is on a stage in the distant background.
The funeral of Valentina Orellano Peralta at City of Refuge United Church of Christ in Gardena.
(Samanta Helou Hernandez for LAist)
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Speaking just a few feet from the casket holding her daughter, the parents of Valentina Orellana Peralta lovingly remembered their daughter at her funeral Monday, while joining with civil rights activists and others in calling for justice.

Valentina, 14, was unintentionally killed by an LAPD officer at a Burlington store last month. The funeral was held at the City of Refuge church in Gardena.

The cover of the Valentina Orellana Peralta funeral program has a picture of her with a pink background and a picture of a skateboard. It has her name and the dates May 26, 2007 and Dec. 23, 2021.
The program for Valentina Orellana Peralta's funeral.
(Frank Stoltze
/
LAist)

The shooting has drawn national attention; the Rev. Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy. One of the other speakers, Orellana Peralta family attorney Benjamin Crump, has represented the families of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
The cavernous sanctuary was sparsely populated. At the front, Valentina lay in an open casket, dressed in a light pink dress, her favorite color. Pink and purple roses lay on top of the bottom half of the casket. Wreaths of the same color flanked the casket, along with photos of Valentina.

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Calling Valentina “an angel,” her mother, Soledad Peralta, recalled how her daughter wanted to study robotics and had mastered English, math and physics in just six months. Peralta recalled how her niece told her, “please don’t cry, your tears are going to wet her wings and she won’t be able to fly.”

Valentina’s “greatest dream was to become a US citizen,” said her father, Juan Pablo Orellana. He said the family will never overcome the pain of losing her. “They have destroyed us as a family and as parents,” he said.

An emotional man dressed in a black hoodie stands at a lectern. There is an illustration of a woman on his shirt.
Juan Pablo Orellana Larenas delivers a eulogy for his daughter Valentina Orellana Peralta who was killed by an LAPD office while shopping with her mother in December.
(Samanta Helou Hernandez for LAist)

Noting her commitment to social justice, Orellana said the family will fight to get “justice for our daughter Valentina.”

Valentina was originally from Chile. A number of her relatives traveled from that South American nation for the funeral, and her cousin Emily Carr came from Toronto.

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Carr called Valentina “a special girl with a lot of dreams,” which she said “consisted in applying herself toward helping others.” She said her cousin was “pensive and quiet, always thoughtful, always thinking. She absorbed the world around her like a sponge.”

'How Long Will It Take For You To Get It Right?'

'In his eulogy, Sharpton recalled how he came to L.A. and led marches calling for police reform following the beating of Rodney King 31 years ago.

“Through those 31 years, we keep seeing LAPD get it wrong,” he said. “And here we are again. How long will it take for you to get it right?”

Calling Valentina’s killing “a tragedy and a travesty,” Sharpton said "there is no rationale” for opening fire in a department store two days before Christmas “like this is the wild, wild west.”

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He asked, “if this was a department store in an upscale area, would you have been shooting like that?”

Four men, dressed in black, stand in front of a collection of microphones. Other men and women are in the background and around them.
Left to right: Attorney Rahul Ravipudi, Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez, Reverend Al Sharpton, and Attorney Ben Crump hold a press conference at 14-year-old Valentina Orellana Peralta's funeral in Gardena on Monday.
(Samanta Helou Hernandez for LAist)

Sharpton went on: “The fact that the officer was Black does not mean we don’t want a thorough, intense investigation and let the evidence lead to where he is held accountable like any other officer.”

Crump said he and other lawyers representing the family came "to make a plea for justice," adding, "there is no true peace without fairness, truth and justice."

After the service, Valentina's parents released 40 doves.

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Doves released

Joining 'This Awful Club'

Others who have lost family to police violence also attended the funeral. Albert Corado’s sister Mely was fatally shot in 2018 by LAPD officers inside the Trader Joe’s she managed. A man suspected in a shooting and who had fired on police during a chase had fled into the store.

“Who are we as a city if we are going to allow them to keep doing this?” asked Corado, who is running for City Council. “The protocols need to be completely rewritten and in a way that actually serves innocent bystanders.”

Corado said he wanted to show the Peralta family that there are people who have been affected by police violence “who are ready to accept them into the fold of this awful club we are now a part of.”

Cervantes Clark, whose brother Stephon was fatally shot by Sacramento police in 2018, said he came to stand in solidarity with Valentina’s family. “I always say I hope and pray nobody has to ever meet Ben Crump or Al Sharpton one day,” he said.

Even President Joe Biden has gotten involved in the case. When he called President-elect Gabriel Boric of Chile on Dec. 30 to congratulate him on his victory, Biden expressed “his deep condolences to the people of Chile for the tragic death of Valentina Orellana-Peralta,” according to the White House Press Office.

A group of emotional people, dressed in black, are lined up side-by-side, holding hands in the air.
Soledad Peralta, mother of 14-year-old Valentina Orellana Peralta, is moved by the gospel choir at her daughter's funeral in Gardena on Monday.
(Samanta Helou Hernandez for LAist)

Killed By A Ricochet

On Dec. 23, LAPD Officer William Jones fired three shots from his assault rifle at a man suspected of attacking someone in the North Hollywood store when police say one of his bullets ricocheted off the floor and passed through a wall into the fitting room where Valentina was with her mother.

The man who allegedly had committed the assault, Daniel Elena-Lopez, 24, was also shot and killed. Body cam video shows Williams coming upon a bloodied woman lying on the ground. He then opens fire on Elena-Lopez, who was at the other end of an aisle. The fitting room was just beyond Elena-Lopez, who was unarmed.

The shooting drew outrage from police critics, who called for Williams' arrest. Body cam video shows him rushing ahead of other officers, some of whom urged him to “slow down, slow down.”

LAPD Chief Michel Moore said he will not yet “pass judgment” on the decision by Jones to shoot but promised a thorough investigation. “Everything is on the table” for review, he said, including the department’s policies and procedures.

Critics have said the department is incapable of conducting an impartial investigation.

Mayor Eric Garcetti backed Moore, whom he appointed. “LAPD is perhaps best in the best in the country in doing these investigations,” Garcetti said last week.

In addition to the department’s inquiry, the LAPD Inspector General is examining the shooting. The California Attorney General’s office is also investigating. Under a new law that went into effect last year, the office investigates all police shootings of unarmed people and determines whether criminal charges should be filed. In the past, the District Attorney made that decision.

A small group of people, all dressed in black walk together in what looks like a parking lot. A man and a woman at the head of the group carry large printed photos of a young girl. One photo reads "Valentina Orellana Peralta."
Soledad Peralta and Juan Pablo Orellana Larenas exit their daughter's funeral.
(Samanta Helou Hernandez for LAist)

'There Was Not An Imminent Threat'

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file officers, has defended Jones. It pointed out that he had completed mass casualty active shooter training just two weeks earlier, which teaches officers to move toward shooters rather than wait for other officers to contain them.

At least one of the 911 callers that day reported a man had fired a gun, suggesting there was an active shooter. That was not true.

Officers must be able to adapt to the circumstances at hand, said former LAPD officer and use of force expert Timothy Williams.

“You address what’s before you,” he told us. “There was not an imminent threat to the victim that was on the ground and there was not an imminent threat to the officers.

At a news conference before the funeral Monday, Sharpton said “the eyes of the nation are watching” the LAPD and California’s justice system. Crump said Valentina’s mother wants people to say her daughter's name as they do George Floyd’s.

What questions do you have about criminal justice and public safety in Southern California?
Frank Stoltze covers a new movement for criminal justice reform at a time when not everybody shares the same vision.