The police officer who fatally shot a 14-year-old girl in a dressing room, has been identified as Los Angeles Police Department’s anti-racism champion, William Dorsey Jones Jr.
The 42-year-old officer has tried to advocate for his community and reform the police as well as starting a clothing brand called “Use of Force Fitness”, which was disbanded in December 2020 after widespread protests against police violence across the country.
Mr Jones’ lawyer, Leslie Wilcox, revealed his identity to The New York Times on Thursday.
On 23 December, Valentina Orellana-Peralta, 14, was in a changing room along with her mother at a Burlington Coat Factory in North Hollywood in Los Angeles when police entered the establishment to handle a man who had been swinging a bike lock at women, with at least one of them being bloodied.
The officers discharged their weapons despite the man not having a firearm. The suspect, 24-year-old Daniel Elena-Lopez, was killed in the raid, but another bullet went through a drywall in the store, killing Valentina.
The police handling of the situation has once again prompted a debate about the relationship between police departments and communities of colour.
Mother Soledad Peralta, who recently came to the US from Chile, said during a press conference on Tuesday, that Valentina had locked the door when the chaos began “to try to protect us”. They hugged and prayed but then “felt an explosion that threw us both to the ground”.
Ms Peralta saw her daughter convulsing on the floor with white powder coming from her body.
“She died in my arms, and there was nothing I could do,” she said.
According to The Daily Beast, now removed or locked social media accounts and previous interviews reveal that Mr Jones, who is Black, tried to connect communities of colour and the police.
“I’m a black man, I’m the father of a black son, I’ve been the vict[im] of racism,” he tweeted in a post that has now been removed. “I’m the LAPD. I have the power and determination to affect CHANGE in the community. I’m a proud member of the #thinblueline and #blacklivesmatter.”
His Twitter page no longer exists, but cashed posts show that he promoted a “Officers for Change” nonprofit and other charitable causes.
Archives show that the group presented itself as “a 501(c)(3) nonprofit org. on a mission to positively impact the lives of those living in At-Risk & Low Income communities” and with a “Sworn platform to Educate, Inspire, Mentor & Motivate”.
In an interview that has also been removed, Mr Jones told his alma mater, the University of Louisville, that: “Being an African American police officer and from Louisville has given me a very unique perspective.” Mr Jones reportedly moved to LA in 2006 hoping to work in entertainment but instead entered law enforcement.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin is one of many who have criticised the LAPD for using an unnecessary amount of force in the fatal episode.
“Police gave no verbal command and didn’t try to [sic] de-escalate. The suspect didn’t have a gun and wasn’t advancing at officers or potential victims. Police opened fire in a shopping mall with people in it,” he tweeted.
One witness who called 911 incorrectly said the 24-year-old had fired a gun.
Tom Saggau, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, Mr Jones’ union told The Daily Beast that “you’re trained to enter the facility and try to eliminate the threat so that more people aren’t shot. That’s the mindset as they’re responding to that call”.
Mr Saggau said Mr Jones was “absolutely devastated”.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore said in a statement: “This chaotic incident resulting in the death of an innocent child is tragic and devastating for everyone involved. I am profoundly sorry for the loss of this young girl’s life and I know there are no words that can relieve the unimaginable pain for the family. My commitment is to conduct a thorough, complete and transparent investigation into the circumstances that led up to this tragedy and provide the family and public with as much information as possible.”
The family of Valentina is represented by civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who has also represented the family of George Floyd.
Valentina’s family is demanding accountability, claiming that she was left to die on her own as officers escorted others out of the building.
The Independent has reached out to Mr Jones’ lawyer for comment.