The family of a California teen fatally shot by police inside a Burlington store dressing room sued the Los Angeles Police Department, alleging the officer acted “recklessly” when he opened fire on an assault suspect inside the business.
In the lawsuit, which was filed earlier this month in Los Angeles County Superior Court, lawyers for relatives of Valentina Orellana-Peralta, 14, also alleged that Burlington staff allowed the suspect of an assault that resulted in the initial police call to remain in the store despite “increasingly violent and erratic behavior.”
“Filing this lawsuit is the first step for Soledad and Juan Pablo in seeking 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 Tuesday.
“It is their deepest hope that those responsible for her death will be held accountable and that changes will be made to LAPD policies, practices, and standards for using deadly force that will prevent yet another senseless tragedy at the hands of law enforcement,” Ravipudi said.
Authorities were initially called to the the North Hollywood Burlington store on Dec. 23 for a report of an assault.
William Jones, one of the officers who responded to the assault, opened fire on the assault suspect, Daniel Elena Lopez. The bullets pierced the wall of the dressing room where Valentina and her mother had been, killing the teenager. Lopez was also killed. Police have said Valentina and her mother had been out of the officers’ view.
According to the suit, Burlington staff members allowed Lopez to remain inside the store, even as he became aggressive and violent toward customers, and at one point struck a customer with a bike lock.
"Despite there being no question at this point that store patrons were in danger, defendant Burlington employees failed to use the intercom or otherwise advise store patrons or warn the customers," the lawsuit says.
In a statement Tuesday, Burlington said: "While we are unable to comment on the pending litigation, our customers’ safety and well-being is of paramount importance to us."
The suit accused Jones of opening fire with a high-powered rifle with civilians still inside the store and without warning — even though Lopez wasn't armed or assaulting anyone at the time.
Valentina had been inside the dressing room with her mother trying on a dress for her quinceañera when they heard a disturbance outside.
“We sat down and hugged and started praying,” her mother, Soledad Peralta, has said. “When something impacted my daughter Valentina, it threw us on the floor, and she died in my arms.”
The suit also accused authorities of failing to provide immediate medical care to Valentina and separating her from her mother, who had also been injured.
"For what seemed like an eternity, Plaintiff Soledad Peralta waited outside without being provided any information whatsoever regarding her daughter's condition and was not told that her daughter had already expired," the suit says. "Nor was she offered any medical attention for her own injuries."
The Los Angeles Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in a statement obtained by the Associated Press, LAPD Chief Michel Moore called Valentina's death "tragic" and said it "remains a point of grief for us as well."
A spokesman for the city attorney's office said his office is reviewing the suit and declined further comment.
Efforts to reach Jones, who was placed on administrative leave after the shooting, were unsuccessful. A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protection League forwarded questions about the suit to Jones' lawyer.
The police union spokesman, Tom Saggau, has previously said that Jones was following active shooter protocols when he responded to the incident because of 911 reports of a gun. No gun tied to those initial reports was found.
"Officers have to prepare for the worst-case scenario,” Saggau said. “The worst-case scenario was gun, shooting in a store, that’s an active shooter protocol immediately.”
Saggau said that Jones, who founded a nonprofit to help raise money for students' school supplies, was "devastated" over the shooting.
"A lot of the kids that he worked with in his nonprofit were Valentina’s age," he said. "What he’s struggling with is that could have been any one of the kids that he worked with.”
Investigations into the shooting by the state attorney general and the Los Angeles Police Department remain underway.