Courtesy Williams Family
(ANAHEIM, Calif.) — The family of a 17-year-old girl who was shot to death by a police officer on a Southern California freeway demanded Thursday that the officer’s body camera footage of the incident be released.
Relatives of Hannah Williams, a high school senior, expressed frustration that investigators have told them little about how she ended up being shot by a Fullerton police officer Friday evening on the 91 Freeway in Anaheim, about a mile from her family’s home.
“We need to know what happened. She did not deserve to go like that. My parents don’t deserve that kind of sadness. So, it’s been very tough,” William’s sister, Nyla Williams, 19, said during a news conference outside the Orange County District Attorney’s Office in Anaheim.
Fullerton Police Department officials said Thursday in a statement released on Twitter that they plan to release the body camera footage from the officer-involved shooting, but have not said when that will occur.
“The officer involved in this particular OIS [officer-involved shooting] was wearing his BWC [body worn camera], which captured the OIS as it occurred,” Fullerton police officials said in a statement. “The BWC footage, independent witness interviews, physical evidence, and an interview of the officer will all be taken into account in the independent investigations.”
Three different agencies are involved in the investigation. The Anaheim Police Department is investigating whether Williams committed a crime; the Orange County District Attorney’s Office is probing the potential criminal culpability of the officer; and the Fullerton Police Department is conducting an administrative investigation into whether the officer violated department policy.
The officer who shot Williams, who has not been identified, was expected to be interviewed for the first time by investigators on Thursday.
Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney representing the Williams family, said he wants the body camera footage released immediately as well as the officer’s name.
Merritt also said authorities have yet to release Williams’ body to her family. He said as soon as the body is released, an independent autopsy will be performed to determine how many times Williams was shot.
Investigators have not made many details of the shooting public.
On Tuesday, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement that a BB gun designed to look like a Beretta 92 FS handgun was recovered at the scene next to Williams.
The shooting unfolded just after 7 p.m. on Friday. A Fullerton police officer dressed in his uniform and in a marked police cruiser was driving his K-9 to a veterinarian when the officer spotted a car driven by Williams allegedly speeding eastbound on the 91 Freeway, according to the district attorney’s office.
“At some point, the two vehicles made physical contact,” the district attorney’s statement reads.
Moments later, the officer who shot Williams radioed an emergency dispatcher to report the shooting, according to a statement from the Anaheim Police Department.
Williams was taken to a local hospital, where she died.
Police have not said what prompted the officer to open fire on Williams.
Merritt said Williams had recently applied for a learner’s permit to drive. As far as her family knew, he added, she had never driven on a freeway prior to Friday.
He said Williams left her home about 6:35 p.m. on Friday in a car the family had rented and was expected to return home in time to take visiting relatives on a tour of Hollywood.
“When she left the house, we believe she was just running an errand. She didn’t explain it to anyone,” Merritt said. “She did ask her mom before she left … ‘What time are we going to Hollywood?’ Her mom said 7:30 or 8:00.”
He said Williams had recently gotten a job as a lifeguard at Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park in nearby Buena Park but had taken Friday off to be with her visiting relatives.
“She was in a particularly joyous mood. That’s how the family would describe it,” said Merritt as Williams’ parents, grandmother and sister stood nearby. “She was at her best that day. She was in her element because she was surrounded by family and she loved being around family.”
He said Williams, who had been driving east on the 91 Freeway in the opposite direction of her residence, was fatally shot about a mile from her home.
“We’re only left to speculate, but she’s never been on the freeway before,” Merritt said. “We believe she went down a wrong road and was forced to get on the freeway and was trying to find her way off.”
He also said relatives did not know about the BB gun police said they recovered from the scene.
Merritt said at least three witnesses were interviewed by police, two of whom reportedly said they saw the teen get out of the car with a cellphone in her hand after getting involved in the accident with the officer. One witness, according to media reports, claimed Williams was holding the replica handgun when she was shot.
Merritt said he has not had access to the witnesses to question them.
“Fortunately, there is a video,” he said. “So, we don’t have to compete between testimonies when there’s video evidence.”
Nyla Williams, who is in the military, said her sister was not the type of person who would confront a police officer. Instead, she was “very kind, very supportive” and even “silly.”
“You name it, she could make you smile no matter what you were feeling that day,” she said. “She deserved the whole world. She made me proud, even though she said that I always made her proud.
“She was the most loving person I’ve ever met in my life, and I’ve met a lot of people,” she added.
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