Los Angeles police changed forever on the morning of February 28, 1997, as Americans watched live television as a 44-minute firefight unfolded between two heavily armed bank robbers and out-competed LAPD officers in a busy Bank of America shopping in North Hollywood. district.
Eventually, nearly 2,000 bullets were fired, the two robbers were killed, and several officers and civilians were wounded in the now infamous showdown that helped usher in the modern era of militarized police.
Last week, another shocking incident just three blocks away offered a tragic aftermath to the powerful approach that police followed after the bank shot.
A Los Angeles police officer carrying a assault rifle, along with several other officers, rushed into a department store in Burlington after receiving reports that a man was attacking people inside. The officer aimed prior to confronting a man who had attacked shoppers with a bicycle lock, fired three shots and killed the man seconds after first seeing him.
But those shots also killed 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta, who was hiding in a nearby locker room with her mother and was hit by one of the rounds after police said it ricocheted off the floor and pierced a wall.
These two violent events – at 24-year intervals – show the pendulum swing in U.S. law enforcement that has become part of the outrage that followed Valentina’s assassination.
After the shootings, the LAPD and law enforcement agencies across the country stepped up their firepower and equipped officers with powerful rifles and other weapons. The LAPD also authorized its officers to carry high-caliber handguns, and Los Angeles adopted a series of gun control measures.
The officer who killed Valentina fired a military-grade rifle.
The LAPD on Monday released an edited video featuring 911 calls, store surveillance footage and scenes from officers’ body cameras, sparking a debate over police tactics and whether the girl should die.
There are many unanswered questions about the shooting, including whether officers believed the lock-swinging man, 24-year-old Daniel Elena-Lopez, was armed with a gun when they entered the store.
Also among the key questions, said experts who reviewed the video, is why an officer would fire an assault rifle in a store, and whether the decision to do so was wrong. But experts, lawyers and other observers also raised concerns about whether power was justified, whether the police should have ordered Elena-Lopez to surrender, and the constitutionality of the officers’ actions.
George Kirkham, a former police officer and professor emeritus at Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said the officer should not have fired a military-grade rifle inside a store.
“The first question is, why did a guy carry a weapon like this?” he asked. “This is a very, very risky weapon, a weapon with enormous mortality”, which has a long range and high penetration rate.
According to Kirkham, investigations into police shootings have found that the hit rate is around 17%, creating the potential for stray rounds to endanger spectators.
“Bullets go everywhere,” he said.
Greg Meyer, a retired LAPD captain and nationally recognized force expert, disagreed with the idea that police should not have had a heavy weapon in tow when they entered the Burlington store, given what they had been told about the circumstances , they would face inside.
“You definitely want the rifle in front of you in this situation. It’s normal for what you think will be an active shooting situation,” he said.
It appears that police thought they were in such a dangerous scenario because at least one 911 caller mistakenly told an emergency center that there had been a shot at the store and that the man had a gun.
Although that claim later turned out to be false, police have to operate based on the best information they have available, according to Seth Stoughton, a former Florida police officer and law professor at the University of South Carolina who studies shootings and has been a co-author to a book on the use of force by the police.
“When officers receive the information, ‘active shooter, shot fired’ without strong evidence to the contrary, they will react as if it were an active shooter, shot fired,” he said, adding that in modern police it means “Go in hard and fast, basically. “
Because of this reality, it is crucial that any information sent to police is as accurate as possible, Stoughton said.
“It is so incredibly important for call recipients to collect all relevant information, and for coordinators to pass on all this information to officers, and for officers to make active use of their coordinator by requesting additional information,” such as whether a suspect is armed or drunk, Stoughton added.
In 2012, the dangers of giving inaccurate information to police were tragically made clear when Pasadena police shot and killed unarmed 19-year-old Kendrec McDade. Prosecutors later determined officers had acted on a false assumption that McDade was armed, based on a report from a 911 caller who mistakenly told a sender that he had been robbed of weapons.
Still, no matter what broadcasters told them before arriving at the scene Thursday, Kirkham said police should have shouted commands at Elena-Lopez – and ordered him to turn around, kneel and put his hands behind his head – instead of immediately to shoot Hi M.
“This is not like what we would call a good shot,” said Florida State University professor emeritus.
Stoughton noted that while it is important to assess what police, officers and other respondents could have done better, the fact that a meeting ended in tragedy does not necessarily mean that someone did something wrong.
“Sometimes officers do not make the ideal tactical choice and that is OK. It stinks, it’s not great, it’s not what we want, ”he said. “But when it comes to assessing an officer’s tactical decisions, the question is not whether they used textbook-perfect tactics, the question is whether the tactics they used were reasonable at the time and under the circumstances.”
Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, oversaw investigations of 23 police departments as head of the Special Litigation Section of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.
He said the constitution makes it clear that officers can only use lethal force when they or others face a serious and immediate threat to their lives and safety, and that he did not perceive that level of threat in the video.
“I’m concerned about the shooting and the use of lethal force in these circumstances,” Smith said. “At the moment the trigger was pressed, there was no immediate threat to the officer or the victim.”
He said several factors need to be considered when assessing police shootings.
In this case, he said, the suspect was at the other end of a hallway and not close enough to the officer or woman on the ground to cause injury.
Los Angeles attorney Jorge Gonzalez reiterated this sentiment.
“They should basically articulate the facts that justify their shooting, but I do not see it looking at the video,” said Gonzalez, who has represented people shot by police.
“You never see [Elena-Lopez] pointing a gun. “he said.
But Meyer said he believes that although much is still unknown about the incident, the officers’ actions, given the information they had received about the circumstances inside the store, were constitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 1989-sag Graham vs. Connor.
“This is a classic situation that the U.S. Supreme Court calls ‘tense, insecure, and rapidly evolving,'” Graham said. ‘The officers basically seemed to assess that they were heading into a potentially active shooting situation, and they went in as they should, with a rifle in the lead, and when they finally caught up with the suspect, it depends on , what a threat. the officer who fired perceived. “
Kevin Robinson, an instructor at the Arizona State University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and former assistant chief of the Phoenix Police Department, said the video only paints a partial picture of the tragedy. The most important information will come from interviews with the officer who fired the weapon.
“It’s going to depend on the officer and what he saw,” Robinson said. “You need to know what the officer was thinking.”
“Right now,” he said, “we know nothing.”
Dmitry Gorin, a Los Angeles defense attorney and former prosecutor who has handled at least a dozen cases involving extensive police use of force and shootings, said officers in an active shooting incident are very difficult.
But in the civil court, Gorin said, he expects the LAPD to have to pay a substantial settlement for Valentina’s wrongful death.
For Marisol Marquez, the girl’s killing brought back memories of a deadly LAPD shooting of a 14-year-old boy just steps from her home in Boyle Heights in 2016.
In that incident, police claimed that Jesse Romero fired a gun at an officer – which was disputed by witnesses who said the weapon was fired after it was thrown to the side of the teenager.
Marquez, a member of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, said both killings are the result of what she sees as negligence on the part of officers who all too often resort to lethal force instead of less lethal options.
“It’s not okay for a 14-year-old to die in his mother’s arms,” said Marquez, who has just celebrated his daughter’s first birthday. “There is no accountability.”
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