Police accidentally killed a 14-year-old girl when responding to an attack by a deranged man (Update)

I saw this story just before Christmas but at the time the description was a bit vague and there was no body camera video available, making it hard to follow what had happened. Yesterday the LA Times released a video describing what happened combined with store security video and body camera video put out by police. What happened was pretty clearly an accident though the result is no less tragic.

Two days before Christmas, a 14-year-old girl named Valentina Orellana-Peraltaand went shopping for a quinceanera dress with her mother at a Burlington store in North Hollywood. Just before noon, a 24-year-old man named Daniel Elena Lopez entered the store with his bicycle and brought the bicycle to the second floor on an escalator. He put the bike down and started putting on clothes over the clothes he was wearing when he entered. Someone from the store asked Lopez to take his bike out of the store and then walked away. At that point Lopez started getting violent.

He had a bike lock in his hand and he started swinging it, breaking a computer monitor and then trying to smash glass near the escalator. At this point, things escalated when he attempted to steal a purse from a woman who tried to run past him on the escalator. She got away and he attacked a second woman who also got away. Finally, he went back upstairs and snuck up on a 3rd woman, hitting her in the head with the lock and then dragging her through the aisles.

By this point, police arrived including an officer armed with a rifle. He asked to take the point and they found a blood trail leading to the 3rd woman and Lopez was at the end of the aisle. The officer with the rifle fired three shots, one of which struck and ultimately killed Lopez. However, what they didn’t know immediately was that Valentina Orellana-Peralttand was in a dressing room behind a wall where Lopez was shot. One of the rounds bounced off the floor, went through the wall and hit her in the chest. By the time police found her, she was dead.

The family has hired Benjamin Crump to represent them in a case against the LAPD.

Civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump said he and co-counsel Rahul Ravipudi have been retained by the girl’s family.

In a statement, Crump said the girl was trying on clothes when she was killed. He said he and Ravipudi would hold a news conference Tuesday.

Police Chief Michel R. Moore said in a statement: “This chaotic incident resulting in the death of an innocent child is tragic and devastating for everyone involved. I am profoundly sorry for the loss of this young girl’s life and I know there are no words that can relieve the unimaginable pain for the family. My commitment is to conduct a thorough, complete and transparent investigation into the circumstances that led up to this tragedy and provide the family and public with as much information as possible.”

Benjamin Crump is not a reliable source of information about his clients, but the LA Times did report that there was a dress inside the dressing room where the girl was found.

I don’t know if there’s anything police should have done differently here. The man was violent and had attacked three women, beating one of them severely. At the same time, he didn’t have a gun. Should they have attempted to tase him before firing a rifle? Police are generally expected to check the area before they fire to make sure there is no one behind the target (including other officers) who could be struck if a shot misses, but in this case the officers couldn’t see through the walls and didn’t realize they were firing toward a dressing room that might have people in it.

These cops went in to the store with the best of intentions, i.e. to prevent people from being hurt by a deranged man. Unfortunately, they wound up doing more damage than the attacker. It’s a worst-case scenario for everyone involved but especially for the young girl and her family. It seems like a situation which, at a minimum, should lead to careful consideration of the circumstances by the LAPD to reduce the chance of something like this happening again.

Update: Fox News has a story up about the shooting which includes a description of what happened by the mother of the young girl.

“She went to lock the door to try to protect us,” Peralta read in Spanish from a statement, which was translated by one of her attorneys. “We started hugging each other tighter and started praying…All of a sudden we felt an explosion that threw us both to the ground. That’s when I started to see white coming out of Valentina’s body as she started having convulsions.”…

“Her body went limp,” said Peralta, standing beside her husband and the girl’s father, Juan Pablo. “I tried to wake her up by shaking her, but she didn’t wake up…she died in my arms and there was nothing I could do.”