In an incident the police chief called “devastating and tragic,” an LAPD officer fatally shot a teenage girl at a Burlington clothing store during a chaotic confrontation that also left a suspect dead and another person injured.
The teenager was at the store in North Hollywood trying on dresses for a quinceañera, an LAPD source confirmed.
Preliminary information released by the Los Angeles Police Department indicated that police rounds penetrated a wall, killing the 14-year-old girl in a dressing room. Authorities said that they found a metal cable next to the suspect whom police officers were confronting but that no gun was recovered.
The violence late Thursday morning, just two days before Christmas at a bustling shopping district, left many people stunned and sparked questions about what prompted police to open fire. The state attorney general immediately launched a probe of the shooting.
“It’s just absolutely heartbreaking, and I cannot find words to try to comfort a mother and a family, but I will ensure them and the public and our people that we will conduct a complete and thorough investigation,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore, who was out of town with family but briefed on the incident, said in an interview with The Times on Thursday evening.
Officers responded about 11:45 a.m. to reports of an assault with a deadly weapon at the store near Victory and Laurel Canyon boulevards, according to the Police Department.
At the store, authorities encountered a man they said was assaulting someone, and they opened fire, according to preliminary findings by the Police Department. It was not immediately clear what prompted officers to shoot.
The man was taken into custody and died at the scene, said Officer Drake Madison, a spokesperson for the department.
During a search for additional suspects or victims, an officer found the slain girl, LAPD officials said in a Twitter post.
“One of the officer’s rounds penetrated a wall that was behind the suspect, beyond that wall was a dressing room. Officers search the dressing room and found a 14 year old female victim who was struck by gunfire,” the tweet from the LAPD’s media relations office read.
Another woman was injured and taken to a trauma center, said Nicholas Prange, a spokesperson with the Fire Department. Her condition wasn’t immediately known.
Moore said police were still pulling video of the encounter, including from multiple closed-circuit cameras in the store, but that it appeared the girl was in a dressing room with her mother when she was struck.
“We have a young girl who was in a dressing room behind a wall that my understanding was in the path of where the officer fired,” Moore said. “This is a devastating and tragic circumstance, and it occurred during the actions of one of our officers.”
The Times could not reach witnesses inside the Burlington when the shooting occurred. Police have not identified the suspect or the victims.
William Briggs, president of the civilian Police Commission, which reviews all police shootings and decides whether the involved officers were justified in opening fire or should face administrative sanction or punishment, also called the shooting tragic and promised it would be thoroughly investigated.
“I’m being kept apprised and I’m being assured this is getting the highest attention in terms of investigation,” Briggs said. “That’s what they’re going through now.”
California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said the state Department of Justice would investigate the shooting under rules set by a law — Assembly Bill 1506 — that took effect July 1 requiring his office to independently investigate all fatal police shootings of unarmed civilians.
“Preliminary investigation indicates that one of the deaths fell within the scope of AB 1506,” according to a statement by Bonta’s office.
After the investigation is complete, findings will be turned over to the department’s special prosecutions section for independent review, according to the statement.
Moore said it did not appear that the officer who fired “would have known that there was anyone behind there or that he was looking at anyone other than the suspect and a wall,” but he said every aspect of what occurred and why would be analyzed by LAPD investigators.
“There’s not a police officer in America who would ever want this type of circumstance to occur,” Moore stressed.
Moore said Deputy Chief Dominic Choi, who is acting chief in Moore’s absence, was on scene and had been provided a walk-through of the incident.
At a news conference, Choi said the area behind the suspect “just looks like a straight wall.”
Investigators continued processing the scene and hadn’t found a firearm as of the afternoon, he said. A “very heavy” metal cable lock was found near the suspect.
Choi said it wasn’t yet clear whether the lock prompted officers to shoot.
To provide full transparency, Moore said he has directed that the department compile and release by Monday body-worn and closed-circuit video of the incident, as well as radio calls and other available information. He said the store has “an extensive amount” of cameras installed.
The full investigation of the shooting, however, will take longer, he said.
“We’re asking for the public and the news media as well to allow us to conduct a full investigation,” Moore said. “The facts will be the facts, and we’ll have them known.”
Times staff writer Lila Seidman contributed to this report.