National Roundup

Attorney general won’t file criminal case against LA officer in 2021 shooting that killed teen

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The California Attorney General declined to file criminal charges against a Los Angeles police officer who fired a rifle at a suspect inside a clothing store in 2021, killing a 14-year-old girl in a dressing room, authorities said Wednesday.

Officer William Dorsey Jones Jr. fired three times when police responded to a Burlington clothing store in the San Fernando Valley where 24-year-old Daniel Elena Lopez, wielding a heavy bike lock, had brutally attacked two women on Dec. 23, 2021.

Elena Lopez was killed in the shooting, as was Valentina Orellana Peralta as she prayed in a dressing room with her mother.

An autopsy report found that Elena Lopez was on methamphetamine at the time of his death.

The state Department of Justice investigates all police shootings where an unarmed person is killed. Instead of criminal charges, officials recommended that the Los Angeles Police Department “should consider updating their communication training bulletin and any related training to account for the type of situation presented during this event.”

“This case was a particularly challenging one to process as this involved the loss of two lives,” Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement announcing the report. “Any loss of life is a tragedy, and my heart goes out especially to the family of Valentina Orellana Peralta, who tragically lost her life and whose only involvement in this incident was by being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Body camera video released in 2021 showed the officers walking through the store in a formation. Wielding a rifle, Jones pushed to the front of the pack even as other officers repeatedly said to slow down.

The officers saw a woman crawling on the blood-stained floor and Elena Lopez on the other side of the aisle, according to the video footage. “Hold up! Hold up!” another officer screamed just before Jones fired three shots.

Jones told investigators that he believed someone inside the store was shooting people, that he saw a bleeding victim, mistook the bicycle lock Elena Lopez was wielding for a gun and that he thought a wall behind Elena Lopez backed up against an exterior brick wall that would block the officer’s shots. In fact, the area contained the women’s dressing rooms.

The Los Angeles Police Department declined to comment on the attorney general’s decision Wednesday, citing ongoing civil litigation. Jones’ attorney did not respond to phone and email requests for comment.

The department’s civilian oversight board ruled in 2022 that Jones was justified in firing once but that his two subsequent shots were out of policy. Police Chief Michel Moore, who has since retired, previously found in his own review that all three shots were unjustified.

Jones remains a full-time officer with the department, LAPD Captain Kelly Muniz said.

The teen’s parents filed a lawsuit in state court in 2022 alleging wrongful death and negligence. Their attorney did not immediately respond to phone and email requests for comment Wednesday.

Her family had left Chile to get away from violence and injustice in search of a better life in the U.S. Orellana Peralta’s parents remembered her as a happy teen with many friends who loved sports, adored animals and excelled in school.

New Mexico
Whistleblowers outline allegations of nepotism and retaliation within police academy

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Several members of the Albuquerque police academy’s training staff who were dismissed from their duties last summer filed a lawsuit Wednesday outlining allegations of nepotism and retaliation by leadership within the force.

The whistleblower complaint centers on a requirement that male cadets shave their heads with a razor daily. One cadet — the son of a police commander — was found to have violated the policy and wasn’t initially truthful with training staff when asked whether he was following through with the practice.

The cadet was dismissed from the academy last August following an internal investigation, but the lawsuit states the decision was reversed in less than 24 hours. The plaintiffs deduced that the commander had intervened on behalf of his son and that they were dismissed from the academy and reassigned to other positions in the field because they reported the violation.

In a letter to Police Chief Harold Medina, the plaintiffs described an abuse of authority and suggested that the commander’s intervention was inappropriate and nepotistic.

“We have done nothing wrong,” they stated in the letter, which was submitted as part of the complaint. “We have acted to report ethical violations and to protect the public interest in ethically trained law enforcement officials, and we should not suffer retaliation for doing so.”

It wasn’t until a month later that the department responded with a notice that an internal investigation would be initiated and it would include possible hazing of a cadet. According to the lawsuit, it was the academy commander who had instructed the training staff to reinstitute “old school” policies and a more “military” style of training at the academy.

Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesperson for the Albuquerque Police Department, told The Associated Press that the city takes hazing allegations very seriously.

“Those allegations, as well as the allegations in this lawsuit, will be addressed in court,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the shaving policy is still part of the cadet handbook.

The beleaguered police department has been grappling with other recent internal investigations, including the mishandling of DWI cases by some officers over a period of years and a traffic crash involving the police chief that seriously injured another driver.

The seven plaintiffs who brought the whistleblower complaint made up the academy’s entire training staff and had more than 100 years of combined experience, said their attorney Levi Monagle. They are seeking damages for lost wages, emotional distress and harm to their reputations.

The lawsuit stated that the findings of the internal investigation that followed the cadet being reinstated have yet to be shared with the plaintiffs. It was completed by a third party in December. While the plaintiffs believe it found no evidence of hazing, they were issued reprimands for “unspecified violations” of city policies.

The training staff had said they were given no explanation for their removal from the academy or explanation for their reassignments. They stated that the removal of officers from positions for which they apply and are tested — without explanation or notice or opportunity to be heard — is “highly unusual” and a violation of the police department’s collective bargaining agreement.