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LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and the Dorner Killing Spree, One Year Later

Plus the LAPD's mistakes in judgement that almost cost two innocent women their lives.

by
Jack Dunphy

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February 17, 2014 - 11:33 pm
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Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, Shakespeare tells us.  And while the worries heaped on the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department may not rival those that kept Henry IV awake into the small hours, it’s safe to say that, some nights, Chief Charlie Beck does a good bit of tossing and turning before drifting off.

A period of sleeplessness for Chief Beck came, as it did for police officers across Southern California, one year ago this month, when former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner went on a killing spree that targeted police officers and their families.  After being fired from the LAPD in 2008, Dorner nursed a grudge for more than four years before murdering Monica Quan, the daughter of Randy Quan, a former LAPD captain-turned-attorney who had represented Dorner in his termination proceedings.  Also killed was her fiancé, Keith Lawrence.

In writing about it now, it’s difficult to capture the atmosphere of trepidation that pervaded the LAPD when it was discovered that Dorner had written of his desire to take revenge for his firing on the parties whom he, in his diseased sense of morality, held responsible.  The department was all but paralyzed by the logistical demands of protecting all of the personnel determined to be at the greatest risk and their families.  Beyond that, officers’ nerves were frayed by the thought that Dorner, tutored as he was on how the LAPD operates, and armed as he was with who knew how large an arsenal, might turn up anywhere in the city or even at an officer’s home and claim his next victim.  He had written in his Facebook manifesto that he would extend his vengeance to the families of those with whom he held his grievance, and he showed himself to be true to this threat by selecting Monica Quan and even her fiancé as his first victims.

The nine-day manhunt for Dorner has been well documented, but I’ll summarize it by saying that before he was killed on Feb. 12 in a gunfight with San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies, he had ranged over thousands of square miles while murdering two police officers, wounding two others, and opening fire on several more.  In the early morning hours of Feb. 7, in the course of just twenty minutes, he fired on two LAPD officers, wounding one of them, then ambushed two officers from Riverside, Calif., killing one and wounding the other.

So it was in this atmosphere that LAPD officers, later in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 7, committed a blunder that mercifully was not fatal to two innocent women but well might have been, a blunder that brought the department under harsh criticism, some but not all of it deserved.  Patrol officers from the LAPD’s Hollywood Division were hastily assembled and sent to Torrance, Calif., in the South Bay section of Los Angeles County.  It was in Torrance where there lived an LAPD captain who, by virtue of his being a member of the trial board that voted to fire Dorner, was considered to be one of his priority targets.  The captain had in fact been specifically named in Dorner’s manifesto, and adding to the fraught atmosphere was the fact that someone believed to be Dorner had been seen at the captain’s house prior to the first two murders.

By now the story has been well told about how, at about 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 7, this group of LAPD officers opened fire on two women, Margie Carranza and Emma Hernandez, who were delivering newspapers in the neighborhood and whose truck bore a resemblance to Dorner’s.  Over 100 pistol and shotgun rounds were fired at the truck but, incredibly, neither woman was killed.  (Carranza and Hernandez later settled their lawsuit against the LAPD for a reported $4.2 million.)

The officers who fired on Carranza and Hernandez have remained in non-field assignments since the shooting, awaiting word on what if any discipline will be imposed.  There were, as when any controversy arises in the LAPD, calls for the officers to be fired and even imprisoned, calls that will surely be echoed in the comments to this piece as soon as it’s posted.  But to the more rational among us it was clear that under the circumstances some lesser form of punishment was called for.

And this is where Chief Beck came in for some more sleepless nights.  Yes, there were howls for the involved officers’ hides to be tacked to the wall.  How can a group of officers mistake two slightly built Hispanic women for Christopher Dorner, who was black and stocky?  A misjudgment of that enormity clearly demonstrated that the officers should not again be trusted with the authority and weaponry of a police officer.  Come down too easy on the officers and the chief would lose his credibility with the public.

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Top Rated Comments   
"The department was all but paralyzed by the logistical demands of protecting all of the personnel determined to be at the greatest risk"

Welcome to our world, buddy...our safety is up to us, imagine that.

As far as that shooting, it was just the usual police clusterf*ck of undisciplined spray and pray thats all too common anymore...and I say this as a Firearms Instructor of 30+ years experience....you guys just plain suck anymore.

The "miracle" those two women survived is due more to (thankful in this case) police incompetence with firearms than anything else.

Note (in the police photo) the residential neighborhood they were in, with a private home DIRECTLY BEHIND what they were "aiming" at....100+ shots fired and how many hit vehicle at all? 10, 20?

Gee, where did the rest of them go? Anyone? ….Bueller?...Bueller?

No excuse for that much gun-play, period. If my wife had a psycho-ex husband, who just killed her parents and swore he was now coming after us, and I lit up the WRONG CAR coming down my street with a couple of magazines ….

Where do you think I’d be right now?

Yeah, go figure…

Those idiots put the whole community at risk with their piss-poor fire control, and cost the taxpayers millions

And the REALLY scary part is this, Jack.

“I doubt if I, under the same circumstances, would have been so disciplined as not to empty at least one magazine”

Please, for the sake of all things living, turn in your gun (and badge) right now…

You have no business carrying them.


30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
I look forward to your future defense of some private citizen who, in fear for his life from some guy who looks like LL Cool J, fires two boxes of ammo into a pickup truck full of little old Hispanic ladies.

Lack of adequate training? LAPD is in serious trouble if its official position is that it's officers can't be expected not to shoot the wrong people without some additional training that it had never occurred to anybody that they might need.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
I remember reading back in the 70s in a psychology class that a research study had concluded that at least 50% of police officers were dangerous to law abiding citizens. And the older I have become the more I believe that number.

Though I have never personally had any run ins or trouble with police officers and I admit that every ticket I have ever received I deserved, I have always kept that 50% number in mind when I have been pulled over by an officer and conducted myself accordingly.

Being a police officer is a very tough and dangerous job in many areas of the country, but there is no acceptable excuse to shoot over 100 rounds at someone who hasn't even been positively identified as having done ANYTHING WRONG. And YES, I believe that some, and maybe all, of the officers involved should have lost their jobs. I guess the saving grace in this fiasco is that none of the officers involved was a good enough sharpshooter to hit their intended target with a deadly shot and that lack of precision might be a topic that can be further discussed another day.

I am glad these two innocent women are still alive, but the people of LA and LA County must be getting tired of having to finance all these large awards to victims and their attorneys for police malpractice with money that definitely could be put to better uses.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (66)
All Comments   (66)
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Hollywood is now glorifying the Dorner types of the world. Rogue agent becomes a target of his former organization and then hunts down and kills his former mates. That's just about every plot out there it seems.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
One small problem (OK two small problems) The truck the ladies were driving was a blue Toyota, Dorners truck was a black Chevrolet. And Chris Dorner was 6'4" and extremely large, not stocky. Other that that, right on Jack.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Also note that he was a large bald black man, and the two ladies . . . weren't.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
A few years ago there was a black gentleman suing the state of Georgia because he fail his entrance "test" for the police academy. What was his failure, he scored 110 on his IQ teat and that was too high. The top limit allowable was 106. I think I may have just stumbled on the reason why such big clusterf**ks often happen. When I took my weapons training I would still be running the parade square 10 years later if I cranked off a dozen rounds and missed the intended target. Better training is not the cure, hiring better people is.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Reading Chief Beck's letter is instructive, if tedious. The individual officer accounts of their actions are remarkable, in that there appear to have been strong (and self-serving) mass hallucinations occurring, several officers observing non-existent muzzle flashes, non-existent puffs of smoke, non-existent weapons, and non-existent packages (suggesting explosive devices) in the hands of the non-existent assailant. One officer discharged 9 rounds of 9mm from a distance of 270 to 297 feet(!), believing that he was threatened. Almost to a man, the shootists were firing at a vague target, a truck, rather than at an identified or threatening assailant.

Allowing the benefit of the doubt, it was still quite dark at 0530 in February. Some phenomena interpreted as muzzle flashes from the vehicle may have been sparks from ricochets of other bullets. The truck did behave erratically, no doubt due to the efforts of the terrified driver to escape the hailstorm of gunfire directed at her, in turn perceived as evasive maneuvering.

The officers' accounts suggest a strong element of auto-suggestion, or "mass hypnosis" in which a combination of emotional intensity and fear combined to lead them to perceive miniscule sensory events and to magnify them into disastrous threats. Such things as the glint of a streetlight off a side rearview mirror might have been perceived as a muzzle flash, or a puff of cigarette smoke as the blast of smoke from a muzzle. At least one officer perceived the crack of bullets past his head -- fired by his fellow officers in crossfire.

Overall, a spectacular mess. LAPD has a lot of work to do....
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
It also suggests that the officers are in sore need of training. And discipline. They should be fired, as well as their supervisors and trainers.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Going to disagree with Jack on this one. And this as someone who has defended police shootings on this site against the grotesque errors by other writers on this site who heaped calumny on the Las Vegas Metro Police Department for the Erik Scott shooting and Pima County law enforcement in the Jose Guerena shooting. As a firearms instructor in an agency, the first rule of shooting is know who you are shooting at. The officer who shot first did not identify his target plain and simple. He made a major error in judgement and should pay the consequences which at a minimum should involve termination, and include criminal prosecution for his actions.

The other officers have almost as much culpability. They also had a responsibility to first identify a specific target as a threat. What they did was shoot just because someone else was shooting. They did not take the time to deterime if their target was a threat.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bingo!

The military, specifically Infantry, would term this poor fire discipline. In fact, I might go so far as to say that the officers firing 'cause someones else started shooting have _more_ culpability, not less.

And yes, I have been shot at.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Unfortunately, this pattern of reckless blasting away at unarmed and sometimes innocent people appears to persist at LAPD. Just a few weeks ago, a mentally ill man led a police pursuit, that ended with him exiting his disabled vehicle, clearly unarmed, and attempting to run, when he was gunned down by the pursuing pack of officers. Once again, we'll hear that one officer fired a shot, and then all the others joined in the barrage, although none of them could have seen any threat. The entire event was televised as it happened, by a news helicopter.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Police, and civilians, should suffer EXACTLY the same legal consequences of using firearms.

There is no rational excuse for the attempted murder of the two women - the truck was the wrong make, wrong color, wrong year, wrong license, occupied by the wrong people.

What would the DA do to civilians who did something similar? And why do TWB's (Thugs With Badges) get to do it?

Society lets them have firearms and gives them the limited right to deprive others of their liberty as a special trust. When they go rogue, the only alternative for them should be cells at Folsom.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Unless they can catch a felony rap for playing hooky, the police are civilians too.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Police, and civilians, should suffer EXACTLY the same legal consequences of using firearms."

Sir, you are wrong on TWO counts.

1. Police ARE civilians. They are part of the CIVIL government. They are not part of the military. The continued militarization of our police departments is a serious threat to liberty, and should not be tolerated by anyone who claims to value our Constitution.

2. The police are an instrument of force for the state. They should be held to a HIGHER standard than the general populace.

30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
I almost agree. I believe that police deserve consideration and understanding by the public of the fact that they face the problem of split-second decisions all too often, unlike the average citizen. What is needed is better training, and elimination, by supervision, of situations that lead to a "pursuing pack", that in turn leads to degeneration into a "mob", with its attendant psychology. When that occurs, one trigger-happy miscreant can start the firestorm.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
" I believe that police deserve consideration and understanding by the public of the fact that they face the problem of split-second decisions all too often, unlike the average citizen."


Agreed, as far as determining guilt or innocence. But when they are clearly guilty of a criminal mistake, like this one, they should be held to a much higher standard.

30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
"There were, as when any controversy arises in the LAPD, calls for the officers to be fired and even imprisoned, calls that will surely be echoed in the comments to this piece as soon as it’s posted".

Jack an excellent analysis and attempt to convey to those citizens who have a genuine interest the inherent difficulties of police work.

You are also quite correct that the keyboard heroes will always be ready to pick up their Cheetos and second guess the men on the firing line.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, this keyboard hero spent 24 years in the military, deployed half a dozen times in 3 conflicts (wars, if you will) and NEVER shot at an unidentified target. The LAPD was wrong; they opened fire on an unidentified target and nearly killed two innocent bystanders.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wow. They fired a huge number of shots at a truck that did not look like Dorner's, at two women who did not in any way resemble Dorner. By a miracle, they did not kill one or both. You sound like a blind authority-worshiper.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, having been on the firing line, I can say that the LAPD actions were contrary to training, policy and law.

Now, be sure to ask your Mom to get you some more Cheetos....
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
"You are also quite correct that the keyboard heroes will always be ready to pick up their Cheetos and second guess the men on the firing line."

Whatever. I like to think of it as assessing the competency of our servants.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes, and we are the rightful judges of their actions.

Some of them don't like that.

30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can't help but wonder, had this incident occurred in a less communist state than California, and had the women been armed, would "Jack Dunphy" have asserted the women's right to protect themselves?

If I were being shot at by unknown assailants during the course of my job (delivering news papers in the dark through potentially dangerous neighborhoods), and I had my trusty firearm at my side, could I have legitimately returned fire?

It seems unlikely these men identified themselves as police, and had they done so, after about 50 rounds hitting my vehicle, I don't think I would have cared if they'd announced themselves as "Jesus Christ! Don't move!"

I would have returned fire, aiming for the muzzle flashes I could see, unlike the cops who couldn't see any muzzle flashes coming at them. Had I killed all those cops, would this be "understandable" to Jack Dunphy?

Or would my return fire be justification for the avenging angels of fellow cops to burst into my home later on a "mistaken no-knock warrant" and gun down my family?

Just curious.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
This isn't the first article where "Jack Dunphy" has explained how it's okay for police officers to shoot and kill unarmed civilians, so long as they're:

1. Frightened.
2. Acting out of revenge.

Certainly, this won't be the last article where "Jack Dunphy" excuses that behavior.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
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