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Criminal Justice

LAPD Officials’ Remarks Raise Questions About Tactics Of Officer Who Killed Valentina Orellana Peralta

A wreath with white flowers adorns a picture of Valentina Orellana Peralta, the 14-year-old who was shot by police during an altercation with a suspect. The wreath and photo is seen in front of the LAPD headquarters building.
A picture of Valentina Orellana Peralta, the 14-year-old who was shot by police during an altercation with a suspect at a Burlington store.
(Emily Elena Dugdale
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Testifying for the first time to the Police Commission about last month’s fatal shootings of an unarmed man and a 14-year-old girl inside a North Hollywood clothing store, top LAPD officials’ remarks Tuesday suggested the officer who opened fire did not follow department training.

The officials were careful not to comment directly on the Dec. 23 incident at a Burlington store, which left Daniel Elena-Lopez, 24, and Valentina Orellana Peralta dead. They did focus in part on active shooter training; one 911 caller that day said the man had fired a gun, suggesting there could be an active shooter inside the store.

There was no gun, nor was there an active shooter.

LAPD Officer Training

Officers are trained to listen for gunshots when arriving at a scene and to listen to what witnesses are saying, Deputy Chief Marc Reina, who oversees the LAPD’s training, told the panel.

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“They’re also trained to assess injuries to victims who may be fleeing the location to determine if they are consistent with what is being reported and be observant for physical evidence that can indicate the type of weapon that is being used,” he said.

The LAPD teaches officers that information obtained from callers and at the scene should be vetted for accuracy if possible, Reina said. “If there is no indication that an active shooter situation is occurring,” he added, “officers are trained to slow their movements.”

Body cam video shows Officer William Jones rushing ahead of other officers and opening fire on Elena-Lopez within a few seconds of spotting him at the other end of an aisle. Before he shoots, other officers are heard urging him to "slow down."

Elena-Lopez, who had severely beaten a woman with a bike lock, was killed, and one bullet went through the wall of a dressing room behind him, killing Valentina, who was trying on dresses with her mother.

Chief Michel Moore said the department updated its training last year with a special emphasis on officers being careful to watch what is behind the person they shoot at.

“It started to come more to the forefront in recent years … what officers need to be cognizant of, what officers are going to become accountable to,” Reina said.

“For example, before discharging a firearm, officers shall, when feasible, consider the surrounding background and the potential risk to bystanders to the extent possible under the circumstances,” he said, adding that they should also consider what weapon they are using and its potential to penetrate walls.

Officer Jones, who apparently received the new active shooter training two weeks earlier, used an AR-15 assault rifle when he fatally shot Elena-Lopez and Valentina.

LAPD Is Reviewing Its Training

In the wake of the killings, the LAPD said it is again reviewing its training. The commission asked the Inspector General to produce a report on best practices in dealing with active shooters and protecting bystanders.

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The five-member civilian panel also promised to fully review the shooting. President William Briggs said they will closely examine the decision by Jones to open fire in a clothing store full of customers.

“If the use of force is found to be out of policy, there will be accountability,” he said.

But the commission only decides if an officer violated policy — it doesn’t impose discipline. That’s up to the chief and a department board of rights panel.

The commission, the chief and the Board of Rights panel will rely on the work of police investigators. Community activist Pastor Cue Je Marie told the panel that’s a problem: We’ve told you time and time again that the LAPD should not be investigating itself.” He said because the commission sets policy for the department, then the blood of those shot is on its hands.

Many members of the public who spoke during the virtual meeting denounced the shooting as reckless. But one woman who did not identify herself counseled patience. “We all need to wait for all the information to come out before passing judgment,” she said.

LAPD officials said it will be at least 10 months before the department completes its investigation. State attorney general Rob Bonta’s office is also investigating and will decide whether to file criminal charges against Jones.

Moore said the department is cooperating fully with Bonta.

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