The Tragedy of Valentina and the ‘Clear Shot’ Provision

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Soledad Peralta, mother of slain 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta, speaks to press. Video still via YouTube.

The shooting death of 14-year-old Valentina Orellana-Peralta this week as she tried on a dress in a Los Angeles Burlington Coat Factory dressing room is the kind of almost unimaginable tragedy that vaults to the head of the national news.

That is not surprising. What is surprising is the coverage.

As news anchors and talking-head experts weighed in, how is it possible that the one obvious issue in the situation was all but ignored?

Some context. The bodycam footage from the officer with the rifle has been released publicly. The family and their attorneys have held a press conference (difficult to watch), and talked about who Valentina was.

According to reports, some of the calls to 911 said that shots had been fired. Beyond that, much is not yet known. We do not have officer reports, other videos and much more. A thorough investigation is obviously needed, and it appears there may be several underway.

Still, it is not premature to identify an overriding issue, central to use-of-force policy and use-of-force training: the “clear shot” provision.

Every law enforcement use-of-force policy distinguishes use of lethal force from the more general rules about other uses of force. There is, understandably and properly, a much higher bar for the use of lethal force. There are restrictions on how and when lethal force may be used.

One of these restrictions is usually referred to as the “clear shot” provision. It states that in order to discharge a firearm at a suspect, all of the lethal force requirements must be met and, in addition, the shot cannot be taken if it will endanger bystanders or other uninvolved persons.

For example: A suspect is running away from an armed robbery and an officer can shoot at the suspect. However, the suspect is running in front of an apartment house and if the shot misses, it could hit someone in their apartment. Under these conditions, the officer should not shoot unless the suspect is shooting at the officer or at someone else.

Might the suspect get away? Unlikely, but yes, that is the price for not endangering innocent civilians with lethal force.

The clear shot provision is a standard part of reasonable and competent use-of-force policies and should be reinforced in departmental training on the use of force.

photo of girl with glasses

Valentina Orellana-Peralta. Courtesy KABC-TV

Every officer has enough firearms training to know that a high-powered rifle round can go through several partitions and walls and still be fatal. The Los Angeles situation appears to be a classic example of why the clear shot provision is important .

But news coverage has largely omitted mention of it.

There are a multitude of other issues already apparent in this situation. As LAPD officers responded to the Burlington store, they likely knew some of the 911 calls were of shots fired. That meant they had to take extra precautions and assume the suspect might be armed.

But he might not be. Officers know that 911 calls are sometimes wildly inaccurate, but if there were shots fired, then they are pursuing a suspect who may fire upon them. As they enter and pursue, they do not hear shots or see a gun. The shooter (identified later as Daniel Elena Lopez, 24) died of a gunshot wound, and was ultimately found to be unarmed.

So could police have used chemical agents or Tasers?

From the bodycam footage, that looks very difficult as the suspect runs through the aisles, only sometimes in plain sight. What if he encounters an employee or a customer? Will the officers be able to intervene before the other person is badly injured? What if he has a gun and starts shooting at the officers? The situation is chaotic and fast developing and not easy for the officers responding.

Jeffrey A. Schwartz

I will leave all of those questions and more to the hopefully thorough investigations, save one. The clear shot provision.

The officer did not have a clear shot and did not see the suspect with a gun, nor was the suspect in the act of harming someone when the shot was taken.

Is that not worthy of some consideration?

See also: Los Angeles officer told to ‘slow down’ before shots fired at Burlington store, killing 14-year-old girl

Psychologist Jeffrey A. Schwartz, Ph.D., has worked with police and correctional agencies across the United States and Canada for more than 40 years, specializing in crisis intervention training and use-of-force issues. His office is in Campbell, CA and he may be reached at jasletra@aol.com.

One thought on “The Tragedy of Valentina and the ‘Clear Shot’ Provision

  1. Yes, a suspected active shooter should require some officers armed with rifles, but in close quarters, full of civilians, other options should be available. The time tested shotgun. Or backup revolvers with frangible ammo for just such situations. Some homeowners choose it just to prevent shoot throughs in home defense situations. More options, better outcomes. With the very real threat of active shooters anytime, anywhere, tactics and arms need to expand to cover scenarios in malls, stores, office buildings and other locations where partitions and cosmetic fronts will hide vulnerable bystanders.

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