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LAPD tactics under scrutiny after fatal shooting of teenage girl in dressing room

Los Angeles Police Department public information officer Capt. Stacy Spell speaks in a news conference at the scene where two people were struck by gunfire in a shooting at a Burlington store in North Hollywood, California on Thursday. (Photo by AP)

The fatal shooting of a teenage girl by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) inside a department store dressing room has brought the police force’s tactics under sharp scrutiny in a year in which shootings by city officers have increased after years of decline.

The Los Angeles County medical examiner-coroner identified the victim as Valentina Orellana-Peralta. She died Thursday afternoon when LAPD officers, responding to reports of an assault with a deadly weapon, opened fire on a suspect on the second floor of a Burlington Coat Factory in North Hollywood.

The suspect was shot and killed but Orellana-Peralta also caught a bullet while she was inside a dressing room with her mother. Her body was found only after the store was searched for additional suspects. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The fatal shooting has sparked widespread anguish and outrage and raised familiar questions about the tactics used by the responding officers: Whether they could de-escalate the situation without opening fire or at least take measures to avoid putting others in harm’s way.   

The incident bears similarities to the case of Melyda “Mely” Corado, who was fatally shot by the LAPD as she worked a shift at a Trader Joe’s in Silver Lake in July 2018.

Police were chasing an armed suspect, identified as Gene Evin Atkins, whose vehicle crashed into a utility pole and ran into the nearby store. He opened fire at two pursuing officers, who returned fire, hitting and killing Corado, a store employee.

“To think, over three years after what happened to Mely happened, that there’s been no change whatsoever in the way the police deal with these situations, just shows the police have no desire to change,” Albert Corado,  Melyda brother, told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.

“They use deadly force pretty much whenever they feel like it,” he added, infuriated.

Much about the fatal shooting of Orellana-Peralta remained unclear on Chrisman Eve, but Mayor Eric Garcetti promised total transparency as an investigation is underway.

“Two things I promise is to be deliberate and thorough, and to be totally transparent,” he said Saturday. “That’s what everybody deserves — that we get to the bottom of what happened and share [it] with the public. It’s just a horrible, horrible tragedy.”

Edwin Arroyo, supervisor of Nancy’s Cleaning Services, spent Friday morning cleaning up broken glass near the front doors before heading inside to the second-floor dressing rooms. He described “a horrible scene” where blood was smeared on a wall, on a dress left on a hanger and on more than a dozen other items.  

“I don’t know how many gunshots there were,” he said, “but there was a lot of blood.”

“The little girl was trying on a dress,” he lamented.

Police and city officials said video footage from the store and from LAPD officers’ body cameras would be released Monday.


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