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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Sam Levin in Los Angeles

Los Angeles police officer who killed girl, 14, in department store will not face charges

A grieving middle-aged man holds a photo of his daughter.
Juan Pablo Orellana Larenas, father of Valentina Orellana-Peralta, holds a photo of his daughter during a news conference in 2021. Photograph: Ringo HW Chiu/AP

A Los Angeles police officer who fatally shot a 14-year-old girl inside a clothing store in 2021 will not face charges, the California attorney general announced on Wednesday.

Valentina Orellana-Peralta was shopping with her mother at a north Hollywood Burlington Coat Factory on 23 December 2021 when the LAPD entered to apprehend a man suspected of attacking customers in the store. When officer William Dorsey Jones Jr fired three rounds at the man, Valentina was in a nearby dressing room with her mother praying and was killed by Jones’s gunfire.

The killing just before Christmas sparked national outrage, and the California justice department has been investigating it for years, following state law requiring inquiries into all fatal police shootings of unarmed victims.

The California department of justice said on Wednesday that there was “insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution” of the officer. The state’s attorney general, Rob Bonta, released a report on the investigation, which recommended that the LAPD “consider updating their communication training bulletin and any related training to account for the type of situation presented during this event”.

The lack of charges comes despite an LA police commission ruling in 2022 that Jones had violated policy during the shooting, a rare rebuke from the civilian oversight group. The commission said Jones’s second and third shots were not justified. Michel Moore, the police chief at the time, concluded that Jones should not have fired any of the shots and said it did not appear deadly force was “objectively reasonable or necessary”.

Body-camera footage of the shooting immediately raised concerns when it was released in 2021. The video showed that as soon as Jones saw Daniel Elena Lopez, the 24-year-old who had assaulted customers, Jones fired three rounds in rapid succession. It did not appear that Jones shouted commands at Elena Lopez or attempt to de-escalate before firing. Elena Lopez was also killed.

The justice department’s new report said one of the bullets in the “burst” of rounds hit the floor and entered the wall of the fitting room, killing Valentina. Two officers had shouted “slow down” to Jones in the moments prior to the killing, and one officer said, “Hold up, Jones, hold up – I got it,” just before Jones fired, the report said. Elena Lopez had a “dark object” in his hand when he was shot, the justice department said, but did not specify what it was.

The justice department concluded the “evidence does not show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Officer Jones acted without the intent to defend himself and others from what he reasonably believed to be imminent death or serious bodily injury”.

Jones’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment. His employment status with the LAPD is unclear, and the department did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

Valentina had come to the US from her native Chile six months prior to her killing, her parents said at the time. She had dreamed of becoming an engineer and wanted to see LeBron James play basketball in person. In a press conference days after her death, her father held an unwrapped skateboard he had bought her for Christmas.

News of the lack of charges comes as the LAPD continues to face scrutiny over its use of deadly force, including a recent killing of a man who was holding a plastic fork and having a mental health episode.

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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