LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles police officer who opened fire in a Burlington department store days two days before Christmas, killing an assault suspect and a 14-year-old girl in a dressing room, was identified Thursday as a veteran of the force who also operated a non-profit for low-income children.
The Los Angeles Police Department identified William Jones, who was assigned to the North Hollywood area of the nation’s second-largest city, as the officer who fired at least three shots with his long rifle. He has worked at the department for about a dozen years, according to a profile published last year by the University of Louisville, his alma mater.
The LAPD released an edited video package online Monday that included 911 calls, police radio transmissions, body camera footage and surveillance video from the Dec. 23 shooting. The array of footage showed the suspect’s erratic movements in the store, his attacks on multiple customers and the moment Jones fired his weapon. The 911 calls show police received conflicting information, first being told the suspect was assaulting people with a bicycle lock then later that the suspect might be armed and was shooting inside the store.
In the footage, police officers – including Jones – didn’t give any commands to the suspect, who was shot down the aisle from a bloodied assault victim. He could be seen holding the metal bike lock, which he used in the assault, and a piece of artwork when he was shot. No firearms were found.
The LAPD said one of Jones’ bullets pierced a wall behind the suspect and hit Valentina Orellana-Peralta, 14, who was in a dressing room with her mother trying on dresses for Christmas. Valentina dropped to the ground, started convulsing and died in her mother’s arms.
“I tried to wake her up by shaking her, but she didn’t wake up,” the teen’s mother, Soledad Peralta, said in a statement read at a news conference this week.
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The footage released by police shows Jones was told to “slow down” more than a dozen times by other responding officers before shots were fired. He has been placed on administrative leave, the department confirmed to USA TODAY.
Tom Saggau, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents LAPD officers, told USA TODAY that Jones had been a model officer before the shooting.
Jones launched a non-profit with his wife, called Officers For Change, that aimed to help children in low-income households, he said. The charity collected and solicited donations primarily from other officers, allowing them to hand out school supplies and backpacks ahead of the school year, Saggau said. In his spare time, Jones also helped coach a football team, he added.
“There wouldn’t be a department in the country who wouldn’t want him as a police officer,” Saggau said. “This was horrendous and tragic. But this wasn’t an officer with an obvious character flaw or something.”
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Jones grew up in Kentucky and moved to Los Angeles in 2006 to pursue work in the entertainment industry, according to the profile published online by the University of Louisville.
He became interested in police work while out West and finished his communications degree online while working with LAPD, the profile says. The story, published in December 2020, notes he “spent eight years on patrol and the past three years working as a community relations officer.”
Saggau said inaccurate reports of an active shooter likely fueled a mindset that officers needed to quickly stop the threat to prevent death. In those situations, he said, officers prepare for the worst-case scenario, which is why Jones came prepared with a long rifle, instead of a less-lethal weapon.
Since the shooting in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado, police departments across the country have changed procedures and protocols on responding to active shooters. Instead of securing an area and waiting for backup, law enforcement officers have been trained to engage immediately on the scene.
A bulletin sent in 2003 to all Los Angeles police officers, which LAPD confirmed to USA TODAY is still in effect, defined an active shooter as someone armed “who has used deadly force on other persons and aggressively continues to do so while having unrestricted access to additional victims.”
While the suspect, identified by police as Daniel Elena Lopez, 24, wasn’t armed with a gun, officers can be heard in released police footage saying he was in the midst of attacking a woman in the seconds before they approached.
The bulletin noted officers have to “assess the situation objectively, evaluate their options and act accordingly.” It notes a variety of dangerous situations, from suspects who are actively shooting to those who have hostages, and says misunderstandings of the term active shooter had caused “a premature response” with rapid deployment tactics used in an active shooter situation.
An active shooter presentation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which has jurisdiction for a large area surrounding the city, notes the primary goal when law enforcement officers contact a suspect is to “stop suspect’s deadly behavior” and “take the suspect into custody” with the least amount of force necessary. Officers should “give clear and concise orders to the suspect.”
On why Jones did not yell any commands to the suspect, including to drop any weapons or to come out with his hands up, Saggau said that will be a focus of investigators.
“None of us know what was going through that officer’s mind,” he said. “I would never dare put myself in the position of those officers. They’ll be plenty of investigations and questions, but what the public should do is try to put themselves in the shoes of that officer in that moment.”
Contributing: Mary Ramsey, Louisville Courier Journal
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