Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck and the Los Angeles Police Commission have both agreed that the officers involved in last year’s manhunt and killing of Christopher Dorner, in which two newspaper delivery women were also shot, violated department rules on excessive force.
A separate LAPD board, consisting of ranking police officers, urged that the officers be cleared of doing anything wrong, but Beck disagreed with them.
On February 3, 2013, law enforcement officers and their families were victims of a series of shootings by Christopher Dorner, a former LAPD officer. The rampage spread throughout Southern California and left four people dead and three people wounded before it ended on February 12.
Dorner, an honorably discharged Naval Reservist, fled to a cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains. San Bernardino deputies received a report that a white Dodge truck had been carjacked. Officers searched for the vehicle from the air as well as conducting ground searches. California Fish and Game officers spotted the vehicle, called in to report their finding and a shootout between Dorner and responding deputies erupted. Two San Bernardino deputies were shot in the initial exchange. Both officers were taken to Loma Linda University Medical Center where one officer died.
Dorner retreated to a cabin where he barricaded himself. Unknown to Dorner, the cabin was near the man hunt’s command center and was quickly surrounded by law enforcement. Officers cordoned off a three-mile perimeter around the cabin and told residents to remain inside behind locked doors.
Officers fired incendiary gas canisters, known as “burners,” into the cabin. With the cabin on fire, a single gunshot from inside was heard. The next day, a police spokesman said that human remains had been found in the cabin and a subsequent examination by the coroner’s office concluded the remains were Dorner’s.
On February 7, five days before the end of the man hunt, at roughly 5:30 in the morning, 7 officers with the LAPD opened fire on a light blue Toyota Tacoma pickup and shot its two female Hispanic occupants. The officers, who were on a protection detail of an LAPD official’s home, spotted the truck exiting a freeway and heading towards the area which the officers were guarding.
Thinking the truck matched the description of Dorner’s 2005 gray Nissan Titan, they opened fire. The two victims were newspaper delivery women. Margie Carranza, 47, and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71, were the target of over one hundred rounds. A neighbor, who witnessed the fusillade, told investigators and reporters that the truck was used every day to deliver newspapers.
In April 2013, the LAPD paid a settlement of $4.2 million to the two ladies for having been mistakenly shot by the police.
The Police Commission ruling faulted the officers for “jumping to the conclusion” that Dorner was in the truck when they opened fire. Beck told reporters during a press conference that the officers made their mistake worse by shooting in the direction of other officers in an “unrestrained barrage” of firing
New details of the shooting were made public Tuesday that painted the picture of a wild, one-sided free-for-all in which the officers fired shotguns and handguns. Calling it a “tragic cascade” of circumstances, Beck said he has a very high standard for using deadly force and the shooting of the two innocent newspaper carriers did not meet those standards.
While a panel of high-ranking officers supported the clearing of the officers, pointing to the high pressure which the cops were under, Beck and the commission disagreed with stress as being a mitigating factor.
Of the nine policemen guarding the house, only one did not fire his weapon. A 10th officer who had been sent to pick up supplies for the officers on protective detail also did not fire his weapon.
The decision for punishment now resides with Beck. The officers involved could be suspended or issued warnings. Any contemplated terminations must be sent to internal discipline hearings first.
Dorner’s actions and movements, along with the LAPD response, has become part of the curriculum for police academies across the country in the training of new recruits.
By Jerry Nelson