The family of a California teenager fatally shot by police in a fitting room at a Burlington store have sued the Los Angeles Police Department, claiming the officer acted “recklessly” when he opened fire on a suspect in the store’s assault .
In the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court earlier this month, attorneys for relatives of Valentina Orellana-Peralta, 14, alleged that Burlington employees allowed the suspect in an assault that led to the first police call to stay in the country to stay store despite “increasingly violent and erratic behavior”.
“Filing this lawsuit is the first step for Soledad and Juan Pablo in achieving the transparency and justice promised to them by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti following the fatal shooting of their daughter Valentina,” family attorney Rahul Ravipudi said in a statement on Tuesday.
“It is their deepest hope that those responsible for their deaths will be held accountable and that changes will be made to LAPD policies, practices and standards for the use of deadly force that will prevent another senseless tragedy by law enforcement,” Ravipudi said said.
Authorities were initially called to the North Hollywood Burlington store on December 23 to report an assault.
William Jones, one of the officers who responded to the attack, opened fire on the suspected attacker, Daniel Elena Lopez. The bullets penetrated the wall of the dressing room where Valentina and her mother had been, killing the teenager. Lopez was also killed. Police said Valentina and her mother were out of officers’ sight.
According to the lawsuit, Burlington employees allowed Lopez to remain in the store even when he became aggressive and violent toward customers, once hitting a customer with a bike lock.
“Although there was no question at the time that storegoers were in danger, the defendant Burlington employees failed to use the intercom or otherwise advise shoppers or warn customers,” the lawsuit reads.
In a statement Tuesday, Burlington said, “While we cannot comment on the pending litigation, the safety and well-being of our customers is of the utmost importance to us.”
The lawsuit accused Jones of opening fire with a high-powered rifle while civilians were still inside the store and did so without warning — although Lopez was not armed or attacked anyone at the time.
Valentina was in the dressing room with her mother trying on a dress for her quinceañera when they heard a disturbance outside.
“We sat down, hugged and started to pray,” said her mother Soledad Peralta. “When something hit my daughter Valentina, it threw us on the floor and she died in my arms.”
The lawsuit also accused authorities of failing to provide immediate medical attention to Valentina and separating her from her mother, who was also injured.
“For what seemed like forever, plaintiff Soledad Peralta waited outside without receiving any information about her daughter’s condition and was not told that her daughter had already expired,” the lawsuit reads. “She was also not offered medical care for her own injuries.”
The Los Angeles Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but did issue a statement issued by the Associated PressLAPD chief Michel Moore called Valentina’s death “tragic” and said it “remains a point of grief for us too.”
A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said his office is reviewing the lawsuit and declined to comment further.
Attempts to reach Jones, who was placed on administrative leave after the shooting, were unsuccessful. A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protection League directed questions about the lawsuit to Jones’ attorney.
Police union spokesman Tom Saggau previously said Jones was following active gunman protocols when responding to the incident over 911 reports of a gun. No weapon associated with these initial reports has been found.
“Officials need to prepare for the worst-case scenario,” Saggau said. “The worst case scenario was gun, shooting in a store, that’s active shooter protocol right away.”
Saggau said Jones, who started a nonprofit to raise money for students’ school supplies, was “devastated” by the shooting.
“A lot of the kids he worked with at his nonprofit were Valentina’s age,” he said. “What he’s struggling with is that it could have been one of the kids he was working with.”
The Los Angeles Attorney General and Police Department are still investigating the shooting.
Diana Dasrat and Associated Press contributed.
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/family-teen-fatally-shot-police-burlington-dressing-room-sues-lapd-rcna40163 Family of teen fatally shot by police in Burlington locker room sue LAPD