FULLERTON, Calif. — Police in Fullerton, California, have released video of an officer fatally shooting a 17-year-old driver after a traffic incident earlier this month and say she was holding the replica of a handgun in a “shooting stance” toward the officer.
Fullerton Police on Friday shared the body camera footage in response to demands from the attorney representing the family of Hannah Williams. The footage is included in a 15-minute highly produced video that also includes in-studio narration by police officials, slowed-down footage of the shooting, radio transmissions, subtitles and still images.
No audio was recorded by the police officer’s body camera in the moments leading up to the shooting.
In the video, Fullerton Police Chief Bob Dunn says the police investigation into the July 5 shooting is continuing.
Asked by CNN why the police department released the body camera footage in an edited video, rather than just in a raw format, police spokesman Lt. Jon Radus said that it is department practice in the case of body-worn cameras (BWC). “It is our practice to release ‘Briefings’ to explain the BWC videos and incident to provide context (not opinions as we explain, but context). Plus, there is editing that must occur in order to protect the identity of those in the video, such as the 17-year-old female,” Radus said. “While family and media may identify her by name and picture, we do not out of respect for her family, as well as requirements we adhere to in the State of California regarding minors,” he said.
Dunn also said the body camera footage contains images that may be disturbing. “When a police officer uses force to arrest a suspect or to fend off an attack, it can be graphic and difficult to watch,” Dunn says. “In addition, there may be strong language used by those in the video. Viewer discretion is advised, especially for young children and sensitive viewers.”
Police have not identified the officer, who is on paid administrative leave while an investigation continues.
Hannah was on antidepressants and might have wanted to harm herself, her father told a 911 operator while seeming to fight back tears. He had called to report her missing, not knowing about the shooting, police said. He also told the operator he didn’t believe she had any weapons with her.
Hannah was driving an SUV in Anaheim at about 7 p.m. before she was killed. The officer was taking his K9 police dog partner to a veterinarian when he saw her vehicle speed by, police say. At some point, Hannah’s SUV and the officer’s police car “made physical contact,” the Orange County District Attorney’s office said.
In the video, Radus, the public information officer, says the SUV made a U-turn and ended up facing the wrong way on the freeway. The officer got out of his vehicle and approached, when he saw the teen standing outside of her vehicle and apparently pointing a gun at him.
Radus says Williams confronted the officer in a “shooting stance with both arms extended in front of her, pointing a gun directly at the officer.” The officer then shot her.
Hannah falls to the pavement and the officer orders her to roll over onto her stomach. She begins to cry for help and repeatedly says she can’t breathe. “Where you hit, ma’am?” asks someone, apparently the officer who shot her.
Hannah tells the officer she’s been hit in the chest and cries, “Help me, please.”
The body camera video shows an apparent witness approaching the scene to help the officer before medics arrived. The man picks up what the officer believed was a gun and can be heard in the video saying, “It’s a replica.” The man sits with Hannah and tries to calm her, saying “You’re OK” over and over and “Stay with me, you’re fine.”
The officer applies a tourniquet to her leg, where blood and a tear in her pants are visible.
In the video, police show a photo of the replica they say Hannah was holding. It is “nearly indistinguishable” from an actual handgun, Radus said. “The gun was later identified as a replica handgun designed to look like a real Beretta 92FS,” the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said.
Emergency workers transported Hannah to a hospital, where she died.
Police also released the audio of what they say in the video is a 911 call made by Hannah’s father about 90 minutes after the shooting but before he knew about it. He tells the operator that Hannah had taken the family’s rental car and had been missing for about three hours.
Lee Merritt, attorney for Hannah’s family, told CNN he had seen the video, but the family has decided not to watch it. “It was accurate but incomplete,” Merritt said. “We don’t have the 30 seconds of missing audio so we don’t know whether the officer issued verbal commands. We don’t see the crash, or what caused it.”
Asked by CNN about the missing audio from the body camera footage, Radus, the police spokesman, explained it was the result of a 30-second buffer. The family said through Merritt that Hannah had no history with weapons, nor did she have any known issues with drugs or alcohol. The teen was an inexperienced driver, he said, and may never have been on the freeway before.
Merritt called for further investigation. “I think when an officer is confronted with a person in a shooting stance they are authorized to use deadly force,” Merritt told CNN. “However,” Merritt added, “it was a violation of police procedure for the officer to put himself in that situation where he had nothing left in his discretion besides the use of deadly force. This was a felony stop. He should have waited for backup, issued verbal commands … as opposed to putting himself in harm’s way.”
Merritt said at a news conference that the family doesn’t want to cast blame, but wanted to know what happened to their daughter. The family didn’t know before Friday that Hannah was in a “shooting stance” when the officer approached. “If they had known that from the beginning it would have given them a bit more closure,” he said.
“For over a year Hannah struggled with mental health concerns,” Merritt said. “She was at a particularly high point in those struggles. From this family’s perspective that day, she was operating not only as normal but on a high level.”