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

But Chief Beck was surely aware that a harsh punishment would have been poorly received by his cops, most of whom would admit, if only to themselves, that they may have been just as likely to fire on the two women as those who actually did.  Indeed, there were those within the LAPD who said that the shooting, though clearly mistaken, was forgivable under the unique conditions that prevailed during the Dorner manhunt.  Consider: Just hours before the shooting in Torrance, Dorner had killed a police officer and wounded others.  Sometime later, a motorist on a Los Angeles freeway called 911 to report that a truck resembling Dorner’s was driving erratically, and that it was last seen taking a freeway exit that might lead to the South Bay and Torrance.  Add to this the officers’ lack of training and preparation for the assignment and the flurry of unofficial news and rumors that officers across the department were sharing among themselves via cell phone and you have a recipe for trouble, which of course is precisely what occurred.

So, how did Chief Beck resolve the question?  This month he sent a letter to the police commission, the civilian panel that oversees the LAPD, in which he made the case that the involved officers had violated policy when they fired on the two women.  The chief thus stated that the officers would be subject to discipline, which news reports say will be minor.  In taking this action the chief acknowledged that the officers were clearly in the wrong in that they failed to identify their target before firing, but that under the circumstances the mistake did not warrant termination, demotion, or a suspension.

In evaluating the actions of the seven officers and one sergeant who fired on the women, the chief in his letter said that officers “with similar training and experience would not have reasonably identified an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury based on the same facts and circumstances, even in consideration of the misidentification of the truck and prior knowledge of the threat Dorner posed.”

I see this as apt only as to the first officer who fired, on whose head much of what followed must rest.  Every cop who works morning watch, as the overnight or graveyard shift is called in the LAPD, knows the experience of chasing the tail lights of the newspaper delivery vehicles that careen this way and that in the pre-dawn hours, and this officer should have been aware that at that hour he would likely have encountered such a vehicle.  It’s easy to identify the problem now, but the officers and the women they shot would have benefited from the knowledge that at around 5:30 a.m. the women would be delivering their papers on the captain’s street in a crew-cab pickup truck.

As for the rest of the officers, in my view they are less culpable.  They responded to the first officer’s gunfire, believing it to be coming from Dorner, and seeing a truck resembling Dorner’s coming down the street toward the captain’s house, they began shooting.  The chief criticized some of them for what he perceived as an excessive number of rounds fired, but remember that Dorner was thought to be heavily armed and possibly wearing body armor.  These officers, mistakenly but not unreasonably, believed it was Dorner they were shooting at.  I doubt if I, under the same circumstances, would have been so disciplined as not to empty at least one magazine.

The involved officers will soon return to field duties, this after receiving the sort of training they should have gotten before being sent on such an assignment.  Margie Carranza and Emma Hernandez have their $4.2 million and presumably are no longer delivering newspapers.  And Christopher Dorner is dead, sparing us all the circus that would have been his criminal trial.  There is much to lament in the Dorner story, but little in these outcomes.  May Dorner be the last of his kind.