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Police shooting of 17-year-old girl was justified, Orange County prosecutors say

Hannah Williams, right, in a family photo.
(Williams family)

Orange County prosecutors will not file charges against a Fullerton police officer who fatally shot a 17-year-old girl last year.

The decision by the Orange County district attorney’s office, detailed in a 12-page letter dated June 22 and released publicly Tuesday, came after a legal review determined that the actions of the officer, Scott Flynn, “were objectively necessary, reasonable and justified under the circumstances.”

“Although the incident is deeply saddening, resulting in the death of a minor with mental illness, Officer Flynn did not commit a crime,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Avery Harrison wrote in the letter. “To the contrary, he carried out his duties as a peace officer in a reasonable and justifiable manner.”

The fatal July 5, 2019, shooting of the girl — whom family members previously identified as Hannah Williams — happened on the eastbound 91 Freeway in Anaheim after the car she was driving collided with Flynn’s marked police vehicle.

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Leading up to the collision, Flynn — who was on duty as a K-9 officer and taking his injured dog to a veterinary clinic in Yorba Linda at the time — had been monitoring the other vehicle, a gray Dodge SUV, because he said it was moving erratically at an unsafe speed.

Flynn ran a records check and determined the vehicle was a rental.

“It was at this time Officer Flynn believed that the driver might be fleeing from the commission of a crime because, in his 11 years of police experience, suspects involved in criminal activity often use rented vehicles during the commission of their crimes,” the district attorney’s letter states. “Due to the SUV acting so erratically, he felt this could possibly be one of those vehicles.”

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At one point, the SUV slowed abruptly, forcing Flynn to brake and change lanes to avoid crashing into it, according to the district attorney’s letter. Once he pulled back even with the SUV’s rear bumper, it made “an abrupt right turn” and collided with the front of his vehicle.

After the crash, Flynn got out of his vehicle and moved toward the rear of the SUV. As he turned the corner by the bumper, Flynn saw the driver “walking toward him with her arms raised, holding what appeared to be a black semiautomatic firearm, in a shooting position with the barrel raised and pointed directly” at him, according to the district attorney’s letter.

Flynn fired three shots — striking Williams twice. She later died at a hospital.

A replica handgun was found at the scene, prosecutors said previously.

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The replica handgun allegedly held by the shooting victim.
(Orange County district attorney’s office)

Multiple witnesses reported seeing Williams point what looked to be a gun at Flynn prior to the shooting, according to the district attorney’s letter. Body camera footage released by the Police Department last year also appeared to show Williams walking toward the officer with her arms outstretched.

S. Lee Merritt, an attorney for the Williams family, previously told the Los Angeles Times that it appeared the girl was suffering a mental health crisis during the confrontation.

Her stepmother told authorities that Williams had attempted to run away several times and “had tried to hurt herself,” according to the D.A.'s letter. She also had been taking antidepressants and seeing a psychiatrist, her stepmother said.

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The letter documents a few specific episodes — including an April 29, 2019, incident in which Williams allegedly resisted a police officer after running away from a mental health treatment facility.

“During the physical struggle, Minor Doe [Williams] grabbed the officer’s duty pistol and was able to pull it out of the officer’s gun belt,” the letter states. “The officer, with the assistance of a civilian, was able to wrestle the gun out of Minor Doe’s hand and no shots were fired.”

A 17-year-old girl killed by a Fullerton police officer last week appears to have been pointing a replica handgun at the officer when she was shot, according to body camera footage released by the Police Department on Friday.

Sgt. Eric Bridges, a spokesman for the Fullerton Police Department, declined to comment on the district attorney’s determination Tuesday, saying “the case is still pending litigation right now.”

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Bridges could not provide additional details about the nature of that litigation, but Williams’ family filed a legal claim against the city shortly after the shooting.

Merritt told The Times last year that the claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — preserved the family’s right to sue for damages.

He could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Times staff writer Alex Wigglesworth contributed to this report.


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