The family of a 17-year-old Anaheim girl who was shot and killed by a Fullerton police officer in Anaheim last week said through their attorney Friday that the release of police body camera footage provided some amount of closure, but they still have questions about what happened.
Video released earlier in the day by the Orange County District Attorney's Office depicted Hannah Williams assuming what investigators described as a "shooting stance" and pointing what was ultimately determined to be a realistic-looking replica handgun at a Fullerton Police Department officer following a collision on the 91 Freeway near Kraemer Boulevard in Anaheim on July 5. The officer stated via radio that the other driver had struck his vehicle intentionally.
The video provided the most complete account of the interaction between the teen and officer yet released since the shooting. Attorney S. Lee Merritt, who is representing the teen's family, said Friday afternoon he had reviewed the footage, but the family had chosen not to watch the video.
"They had no desire to watch the tragic last moments of their daughter, their sister, their loved one," he said. But they've been made aware of what can be seen.
"We learned today, as you probably learned, that Hannah was in a shooting stance at the time that the officer discharged his weapon," Merritt said. "If they had known that from the beginning, that would have given them a bit more closure."
"Now we still have questions," the attorney said. "But they can sleep better tonight knowing that they have some answers."
Merritt had said Thursday that the replica firearm had been found during a search of the vehicle that followed the shooting, and he did not believe the replica gun played a direct role in the incident.
In addition to the video, the Orange County DA's Office also released a 911 call from Williams' father placed in the hours following the shooting. In it, he conveyed that his daughter had taken a rental car without permission and had been missing for several hours. He added that she was taking antidepressant medications and he was worried about her safety.
Merritt said the shooting highlights the need for the nation to do a better job in dealing with people affected by mental illness.
But in the case of William's shooting, "This officer had very little time to make that kind of analysis in this case. We appreciate that. The family has acknowledged that," Merritt said.
"He came around the corner and saw a person in a shooting stance, and it is difficult to make a split-second decision in this manner. We can't exonerate him at this point, but we certainly can't condemn him," Merritt said. "We're not ready to draw a final conclusion."
The attorney said a thorough investigation into all the circumstances of the incident was vital.
The family has had an extremely difficult time in getting information about what happened, Merritt said.
"That experience, that process, has been torturous for them," he said. "The way the family has been treated in this process has been wrong."
In the days following the shooting, the Anaheim Police Department, which was handling the investigation, released only vague pieces of information about the incident, stating that "a female suspect was struck by gunfire" and that "an item appearing to be a handgun was recovered at the scene."
Anaheim police on Tuesday said that the item had been determined to be a replica handgun and released a photo of the fake pistol, which was made to resemble a real Beretta firearm. The release of the video on Friday was the first time it was revealed that the teen had allegedly assumed a shooting stance and pointed the replica gun at the officer.
Merritt said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer had pledged to look into finding ways to provide affected families, and the community, information more quickly in the wake of police shootings and other major incidents.
The DA's office issued a statement Friday indicating it would examine ways to do just that.
"As the agency responsible for conducting independent investigation into an officer's actions to determine if the officer's actions were legally justified, the Orange County District Attorney's Office is exploring options on how to release preliminary information to family members and the public while preserving the integrity of our investigation," according to the statement.
Investigations into police shootings and other major incidents are complicated, involve many factors and can take months to complete.
"This investigation is not conducted in a vacuum and these situations involve real people and real emotions," the statement said. "We have an obligation as the lead law enforcement agency in Orange County to carry out our legal obligations to conduct a thorough investigation with compassion and humanity."
Merritt said he hoped for positive change.
"We're hoping that, in Hannah's name, we can come up with a better policy, a better procedure," he said. "It doesn't have to be families versus the police. It doesn't have to be families versus the city."
The family was not ready to speak Friday, the attorney said. William's body was released from the coroner's office on Friday afternoon, and the family planned to retrieve it and bring it to a funeral home.