LAPD Video Shows Officers Fatally Shooting Homeless Woman Held Hostage By Man With Knife

This still from an LAPD officer's body camera shows police right before they fired on a man holding a woman hostage with a knife. They fatally shot both the man and the hostage. (Image courtesy LAPD via Youtube)

By Ryan Fonseca and Aaron Mendelson

For the second time in seven days, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore stood behind an LAPD podium and spoke to reporters about an officer-involved shooting in which officers shot and killed an innocent civilian.

"It's been 13 years since an officer's gunfire has killed an innocent bystander or hostage in this department," Moore said. "In the last six weeks, it's happened twice."

Last Tuesday, Moore revealed it was police who shot and killed a Trader Joe's store manager in Silver Lake during a shootout with an attemped murder suspect following a pursuit.

This Tuesday morning, police released video footage of a shooting that took place June 16 in Van Nuys, when police killed a woman being held hostage by a man with a knife. The man was also fatally shot.

Moore identified the female victim as Elizabeth Tollison and said he had reached out to her family following her tragic death.

"It's my undersanding she was homeless," he said.

Officers were responding to reports of a man who had just stabbed his ex-girlfriend at Central Lutheran Church in the 6400 block of Tyrone Avenue.

According to video from body cameras and church surveillance, when officers arrived, they spotted the man, later identified as 32-year-old Guillermo Perez, outside the church holding a knife and metal chair. Officers drew their guns and repeatedly ordered Perez to drop the knife.

(Courtesy LAPD via YouTube)

Police then fired less-lethal bean bag rounds at Perez, who blocked some of them with the folded chair.

Perez then moved back and grabbed Tollison, who was standing nearby, and held her hostage. Video shows Tollison using a walker with an oxygen tank on it. The video shows Perez put his knife to her throat, and police and witnesses at the scene said he started cutting it, which is when officers opened fire, striking both Perez and his hostage.

Moore said three officers fired a total of 18 rounds, two of which hit Tollison.

Both Tollison and Perez were taken to a nearby hospital, where they were pronounced dead, police said.

Moore said he had reached out to Tollison's her family following her tragic death, who told police they had spoken with her in March in an attempt to help get her off the streets, but she declined.

"It's a tragic circumstance," Moore said. "In this instance, we'll look to the officer's actions ... and determine how it measures up to training."

An LAPD release issued June 26, ten days after the shooting, identified the three officers as Eugene Damiano, Andrew Trock and Cristian Bonilla, all assigned to the Van Nuys Division. The release states that the victim, later identified as Tollison, "was admitted to the hospital in critical condition," but does not mention when she died.

Central Lutheran Church offers services to homeless Angelenos in the San Fernando Valley.

Moore said that Perez had prior convictions for robbery and previous arrests for assault with a deadly weapon and domestic violence. His ex-girlfriend was also hospitalized with lacerations to her hand after Perez allegedly attacked her, prompting the 911 calls to police.

[Caution: Explicit language and violence is shown]

The shooting of Perez and Tollison happened shortly before Michael Moore assumed his new role as LAPD Chief on June 27. A series of recent shootings have consumed headlines during his first weeks on the job.

On July 21, LAPD officers Sinlen Tse and Sarah Winans fired eight shots toward a crowded Trader Joe's, after a suspect who had led police on a chase from South L.A. crashed his car, fired at officers and fled into the store. LAPD gunfire killed 27 year-old store manager Melyda Corado in that incident.

This past weekend, suspects shot at LAPD officers in two separate incidents. In one, an LAPD officer in North Hills was shot in the leg, but survived.

"By the grace of God, the officer shot will survive her injuries. Our officers are often faced with violent and deadly situations and sometimes deadly force is the only option," Moore said on Tuesday morning.

The Van Nuys shooting is likely to raise concerns both inside and outside the department. During the press conference, Moore discussed a recent uptick in shootings by the LAPD. The LAPD recorded 44 shootings in 2017, a rise from previous years.

He said that the Van Nuys incident echoes worrying trends in recent shootings. He pointed to several trends:

  • The number of officers involved in each shooting has increased, after back-to-back years of declines
  • The average number of rounds fired has increased, after three years of declines
  • The number of shootings of suspects who did not have a firearm has increased
  • The effectiveness of less-lethal use "appears to have declined", according to Moore

Moore also proposed a solution, saying the department will significantly expand its use of a new, less-lethal technology — a forty millimeter launcher that fires foam baton rounds, which are larger than those shot from bean bag guns. It is accurate from 100 feet.

Moore said he hopes the weapon will give officers a greater standoff distance when dealing with violent suspects.

UPDATES:

11:30 a.m.: This story was updated with the victims identity, additional information about the shooting and background on recent police shootings.


7:45 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1: This story was updated with the identity of the three officers involved in the shooting.


News happens every day. Here at LAist, our goal is to cover the stories that matter to you and the community you live in. Now that we're part of KPCC, those stories (including this one you're on right now!) are made possible by generous people like you. Independent, local journalism isn't cheap, but with your support we can keep delivering it. Donate now.