A man was threatening people inside a Burlington clothing store in North Hollywood last week. He even beat up several women, including at least one pretty severely, with a bicycle lock. When officers arrived with their weapons drawn, it only took a few moments before at least one officer opened fire and 24-year-old Daniel Elena-Lopez was killed. He wasn’t the only one who was killed in the store that day. Valentina Orellana-Peralta, a 14-year-old who was trying on clothes in a nearby dressing room, died in her mother’s arms after she was shot by an officer’s bullet.
The Los Angeles Police Department released bodycam footage of the Thursday incident on Monday night. The images depict a chaotic situation and raised questions about police tactics with Orellana-Peralta’s family demanding answers about why an officer was so quick to open fire against someone who was unarmed. “There was no weapon, there was no active shooter, and so that may be multiple problems, whether it be a system failure, whether it be somebody who just shouldn’t have even been on the job,” said Rahul Ravipudi, the attorney for Orellana-Peralta’s mother, said.
The video released Monday does not make clear whether the officers knew the suspect was unarmed. It begins with 911 calls from the clothing store that show how multiple callers said a man was threatening people inside the store. At least one caller said shots had been fired. When officers arrived, they found a bloodied woman who had been beaten with a bike lock. Elena-Lopez was moving away from the officers at that point when at least one of them opened fire even as those around him appeared to tell him to “slow down” several times. At that moment, a woman’s screams can be heard from inside the dressing room. “Valentina died in the arms of her mother, inside the dressing room,” Valentina Orellana-Peralta’s aunt, Carolina Peralta, tells the Los Angeles Times. “My sister does not understand how this tragedy could have happened just when they had managed to reunite the family.”
Los Angeles police have made clear that it was an officer’s bullet that hit the 14-year-old girl. “Preliminarily, it is believed the victim was struck by a round which skipped off the floor and entered the dressing room wall,” according to the video that has once again led to questions about the role police officers play in Los Angeles to keep communities safe. A coalition of civil rights groups are calling for the officer who opened fire to face charges.