A lack of facilities to care for those experiencing mental illness and soft-on crime policies in Los Angeles County have resulted in a crisis that, at the very worst, has seen deadly results such as the killing of a 24-year-old woman who was randomly stabbed to death while working at a high-end furniture store, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva touched on the case of Brianna Kupfer, who was allegedly murdered by Shawn Laval Smith as Kupfer was working at the Croft House furniture shop last week in Los Angeles’s Fairfax District. Smith, who authorities believe is homeless, was arrested Wednesday by authorities.
Kupfer, who was working alone, was found dead moments later by a customer.
Smith had previously been arrested in October in Covina, a suburb located 23 east of downtown Los Angeles for possession of stolen property and issued a citation.
“We have an open-air mental asylum,” the sheriff said during a news briefing to announce his department’s 2021 crime figures. “He was arrested, possibly for possession of stolen items. It used to be a felony and now it’s a misdemeanor. (He) got out on a ticket in October and a few months later he’s killing Brianna right at the start of her life.”
Kupfer’s death is among a series of recent deaths in Los Angeles connected to suspects exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, Villanueva said. Sandra Shells, a 70-year-old nurse, died from injuries sustained during a brutal attack at a bus stop days earlier. The suspect, identified as Kerry Bell, a transient, was found asleep a short time after the attack.
A 14-year-old girl who was killed by a stray bullet fired by a Los Angeles Police officer died after officers responded to reports of a man assaulting people inside a clothing store in North Hollywood on Dec. 23. The suspect, Daniel Elena Lopez, 24, was killed by police after he allegedly left a woman bloodied during an attack with a bike lock.
“We’re allowing killers to walk freely amongst us,” Villanueva said Wednesday. “We’ve become so used to seeing people behave erratically in public that it doesn’t draw attention until someone gets killed. We’ve been desensitized to the fact that people need help. They cannot be safely walking amongst us. That’s just a fantasy.”
The remarks came as Villanueva announced that homicides in Los Angeles County sharply increased by nearly half in 2021 while violent crime saw a slight uptick.
The county experienced 281 murders last year, up from 199 the year prior and 145 in 2019, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said during a news briefing. The newest figure represents a 94% increase over a two-year period.
In total, violent crime was up nearly 2% from last year. Robberies were slightly down but a new trend in which thieves follow their victims home has alarmed law enforcement in addition to organized gangs that target and ransack retail shops, sometimes violently.