The Los Angeles police officer who fatally shot a 14-year-old girl as she tried on Christmas dresses has been identified as a veteran Black cop who, before killing the unarmed teenager, tried to build his brand as a community advocate and reformer.
He also launched an apparel line called “Use of Force Fitness” but dissolved it in December 2020, after months of unprecedented protests against police violence across America.
William Dorsey Jones Jr., 42, was formally identified by his lawyer in The New York Times. Attempts to reach Jones for comment this week were unsuccessful, and his attorney, Leslie Wilcox, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Valentina Orellana-Peralta and her mom, who had recently moved to the U.S. from Chile, were in a changing room when cops stormed a Burlington Coat Factory in North Hollywood on Dec. 23 to confront a man who was swinging a bike lock at women, bloodying at least one of them. That cops opened fire in spite of the suspect not being armed with a gun quickly served to revive long-standing tensions between the LAPD and communities of color, as well as the debate over police use of force nationally.
Surveillance footage and body-cam video released by the LAPD shows one officer firing three shots from a rifle in the direction of suspect Daniel Elena-Lopez, 24. Elena-Lopez was killed, but a bullet also penetrated a dry wall, piercing Valentina in her chest.
Soledad Peralta said at a Tuesday press conference that her daughter locked the changing room door as the chaos unfolded “to try to protect us,” and that the pair hugged and prayed until they “felt an explosion that threw us both to the ground.” Peralta looked down to see her daughter convulsing, with white powder coming out of her body. “She died in my arms, and there was nothing I could do,” she said.
Social media accounts, now either locked or removed, and past interviews reveal that prior to the disastrous incident, Jones was determined to position himself as a bridge between police and communities of color.
“I’m a black man, I’m the father of a black son, I’ve been the vict[im] of racism,” he wrote in one now-removed tweet. “I’m the LAPD. I have the power & determination to affect CHANGE in the community. Im a proud member of the #thinblueline & #blacklivesmatter.”
Cached posts on his vanished Twitter page show him promoting a nonprofit, Officers for Change, and related charitable activities, while another now-inaccessible account indicates he coached a local high-school football team.
He appears to have closed Officers for Change’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and substantially dismantled its website. But archived material shows it plugged 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” with a “Sworn platform to Educate, Inspire, Mentor & Motivate.”
The Kentucky native spoke of his experiences and interests in a now-deleted December 2020 article on the website of his alma mater, the University of Louisville. “Being an African American police officer and from Louisville has given me a very unique perspective,” he said.
The article reported that Jones moved to L.A. in 2006 to pursue a career in entertainment but instead became a cop, spending eight years on patrol and then three years as a community relations officer.
Public records also suggest he may have sought additional avenues to profit off his policing career: Business, trademark, and website information The Daily Beast uncovered show Jones launched an athletic apparel line in 2019 called “Use of Force Fitness.”
In recent days, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin led a chorus of residents and activists calling the LAPD’s use of force in the deadly incident unjustified.
“Police gave no verbal command and didn’t try to 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 wrote on Twitter.
Bystanders who called 911 about Elena-Lopez offered contradictory information. One caller incorrectly said he was armed with a gun and had fired shots.
Tom Saggau, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing Jones, said officers went in expecting an active-shooter situation.
“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,” he told The Daily Beast.
He said Jones was “absolutely devastated” by the outcome.
However, Valentina’s family, which is being represented by high-profile civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, demanded accountability on Tuesday, and claimed officers left Valentina to die alone on the floor as they evacuated others from the store.
In a statement Monday, LAPD Chief Michel R. Moore said he was “profoundly sorry” for her death and promised a “thorough, complete and transparent investigation.” The California Attorney General’s Office and California Department of Justice also launched separate probes.