Lawyers for city, LAPD officer, seek stay of wrongful death lawsuit
The City Attorney’s Office and a lawyer for an LAPD officer want a judge to put on hold a civil suit brought by family members of a 14-year-old girl who was accidentally shot by the officer inside a North Hollywood clothing store in 2021, pending a decision by the District Attorney’s Office regarding whether the officer should be prosecuted.
The police commission ruled in November that LAPD Officer William Dorsey Jones’ first rifle shot at a suspect, Daniel Elena Lopez, who was attacking a woman inside the Burlington Coat Factory on Victory Boulevard on Dec. 23, 2021, was within the department’s policy regarding the use of deadly force.
However, the commission found Jones’ second and third shots that killed both Elena Lopez and Valentina Orellana-Peralta, a freshman at High Tech Los Angeles Charter School who was hiding inside a stall with her mother in the store’s dressing rooms behind where Elena Lopez was standing, were out of policy.
The girl’s parents sued the city and Jones last July 14 for wrongful death, but attorneys for the city and the officer say a temporary halt of the suit is necessary.
“The motion to stay is made on the grounds that the possibility of a parallel criminal proceeding renders a stay of civil litigation necessary to preserve defendant Jones’ Fifth Amendment rights while enabling defendant Jones to defend himself in both this and the possible parallel criminal proceeding,” lawyers for the City Attorney’s Office and Jones state in court papers filed Thursday with Judge Daniel M. Crowley.
Any shooting in Los Angeles County by a peace officer is reviewed by the Justice System Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, including the girl’s shooting that is the subject of the current lawsuit, but that assessment has not been completed, according to the joint defense attorneys’ court papers.
“Thus, there remains the possibility for criminal prosecution of Officer Jones arising out of the subject shooting,” the joint defense lawyers’ court papers further state. “Officer Jones’ Fifth Amendment rights are directly and heavily implicated as the potential criminal action is based on the same shooting as this civil action.”
Unlike in a criminal case, a civil case jury is permitted to draw an adverse inference from a refusal by a witness to testify, the joint defense attorneys state in their court papers.
The defense attorneys want the stay to remain in effect until either the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office gives notice to Jones that no criminal charges will be filed or, in the event that charges are filed, until resolution of the criminal proceeding against the officer.
In the alternative, the defense attorneys are asking for a hold on discovery as to Jones only. The lawyers say they would provide bimonthly reports to the judge regarding prosecutors’ estimated completion date of the investigation into the girl’s shooting.
A hearing on the joint defense motion is scheduled April 18.