The Los Angeles police officer who fatally shot 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta in a Burlington store last month was following active shooter protocols, the police union said Monday.
In the incident Dec. 23, Officer William Jones — assigned to the North Hollywood Division — opened fire on and killed assault suspect Daniel Elena Lopez, 24, at the store, which was full of last-minute holiday shoppers.
During a search for additional suspects, police found that Valentina had been struck in a dressing room when gunfire penetrated the wall. She was hit in the chest and died in her mother’s arms.
Tom Saggau, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said Jones had completed mass casualty active shooter training about two weeks before the shooting.
Officers responding to the store followed active shooter protocols because of 911 calls about a gun, he said.
No gun tied to the initial reports of gunfire was found. Investigators did find a locking device used to secure bicycles and computers on or near the suspect and believe it is part of the case, police said the day of the shooting.
“The conflicting 911 calls, some said he’s got a bike lock, he’s got a chain … but the other information that made its way was that he’s got a gun and he’s shooting,” Saggau said.
“You can have conflicting witnesses calling 911, and the officers have to prepare for the worst-case scenario,” he said. “The worst-case scenario was gun, shooting in a store, that’s an active shooter protocol immediately.”
Edited police body camera video and security video released Dec. 27 shows the group of officers, one with a rifle, moving toward where the suspect was believed to be.
In the video, officers are heard saying, “Slow down, slow down.” Saggau said: “They’re actually trained to say that as an act of communication amongst each other. It wasn’t directed towards Officer Jones.”
“Slow down” is a reminder to keep your head on a swivel to look for threats all around, Saggau said.
He said the formation Jones and the officers were in was part of the active shooter protocol.
Los Angeles police said in a statement that officers didn’t know that Valentina and her mother were in the changing room behind a wall directly behind the suspect and out of the officers’ view.
Jones is on paid administrative leave pending the investigation.
“He is just devastated,” Saggau said. “A lot of the kids that he worked with in his nonprofit were Valentina’s age. What he’s struggling with is that could have been any one of the kids that he worked with.”
Saggau said Jones founded a nonprofit called Officers for Change, which raises money to give students backpacks and school supplies.
The shooting is the subject of investigations by the police department, the district attorney and the state attorney general.
Valentina’s family called for accountability last week.
“The family thinks things could have been done differently to where Valentina wouldn’t be collateral damage,” their attorney, Benjamin Crump, said at a news conference Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles.
The girl’s mother, Soledad Peralta, spoke at the news conference with a handwritten placard dangling from her neck reading, “Justicia para nuestra hija Valentina,” Spanish for “Justice for our daughter Valentina.”
“To see a son or daughter die in your arms is one of the greatest pains and the most profound pain that any human being can imagine,” Peralta said.