Feb 11 2013

The strange case of Christopher Dorner

I usually don’t follow closely stories about massive manhunts for killers and initially largely ignored the story of Christopher Dorner, the former Los Angeles Police Department policemen who killed three people all connected in some way to the LAPD and then went on the run. It seemed on the surface to be yet another case of a person snapping under the stresses of life and lashing out at those around him.

But this article suggests that the manifesto Dorner released reveals that there is more to the story than just that of a psychotic breakdown, going back to the LAPD’s long history of problems with racism. In a bizarre twist, Dorner has even acquired online fan clubs.

You just know that this is going to end with Dorner’s death, either self-inflicted or at the hands of the police. The police are undoubtedly furious at the death of their colleague and likely have little interest in capturing him alive.

In their anger, they seem to have thrown caution to the winds. For example, while searching for Dorner, they riddled two trucks with bullets simply because they were similar to the one Dorner was driving, hitting two women delivering newspapers, seriously injuring one of them. The people in the trucks had no resemblance to Dorner. People in the neighborhood reported being terrified by the fusillade of bullets that were unleashed. It was lucky no one was killed.

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, we recently had a situation in which there was a 25-minute chase through busy city streets at speeds exceeding 100 mph in which 13 officers fired over 140 rounds at a car, killing its two occupants. The state’s Attorney General has released a report that suggests that the chase might have been triggered by the dead driver’s car simply backfiring, which the police took to be a gun shot. No gun was found and it was not clear why the victims did not stop. The report shows that 62 police cars were involved in the chase involving over 100 officers. It was chaotic and the Attorney General said that the police were firing all over the place and that it was a ‘miracle’ that no one else was killed in the crossfire.

One thing that struck me from both these stories is that when the police are angry and scared, they seem to forget much of their training that tells them to not fire until a positive identification is made and act almost as recklessly as any one of us.


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  1. 1
    Marcus Ranum

    when the police are angry and scared, they seem to forget much of their training that tells them to not fire until a positive identification is made and act almost as recklessly as any one of us.

    It sure does support the NRA’s view that more guns make us safer, doesn’t it?

    Cops are terrible shots, and have generally horrible fire-control. I used to shoot at a range were the state police occasionally came, and it was pathetic to see them firing 3-in shot groups at 100 yards with their scope-sighted Remingtons. Ugh.

    My worst experience in that regard was the Mass State Police idiot at Logan Airport on the anniversary of 9/11, who was strutting around with an H&K MP5 like he thought he knew how to use it. I bugged my eyes out at him and he snapped, “what are you staring at?!” and I replied, “when did they start trusting you guys with grown-up gear?”

  2. 2
    Eric Riley

    “…it was not clear why the victims did not stop…”

    Perhaps because, “…13 officers fired over 140 rounds at a car…” — if they *had* stopped, do you think that they would have been any safer, or just a stationary target?

  3. 3
    Shawn Smith

    I replied, “when did they start trusting you guys with grown-up gear?”

    Shit, Marcus. You came out of that without a whole lot of butthurt? Congratulations if so.

  4. 4
    Mano Singham

    This hinges on the question of why the police initially began the chase and whether they tried the usual methods of trying to get the driver to stop before the shooting began. The AG’s report suggests that they did but he has mostly the police’s word for it since the people in the fleeing car are dead.

  5. 5

    I skimmed over the AG’s report.

    That is a doozy…

  6. 6

    I heard a few stories on Dorner today. I was struck by the noise of the story and the mention of $1 mill reward for information. There were essentially 1 line throw away mentions of Dorner having a beef on racial discrimination and potential whistleblower tie ins. I had the instant thought that 1) he’s dead. May be not yet but the odds of him getting arrested and tried seem slim. 2) There is a lot more story here than is out in the media. It might be a while before the nuance starts to become clear.

    I hadn’t heard of the Cleveland story but it sounds like a schloky movie from the 80s. i.e. an over the top portrait of a police department gone mad. From the linked pdf, 13 cops discharged weapons – one shot 49 times! “Patrol Officer Michael Brelo (approximately 49 shots)”. No gun was found in the car and along its route (they looked and had good reason to find) and the car was so coated in GSR from the cops so that it wasn’t possible to tell if the occupants fired. The majority of shots were to the front windshield. The cops managed to trap the suspects car, converged and let loose with fire.

    In favor of the cops, crack pipes were found in the car.

    I only skimmed the report; its an interesting read though so I’ll probably go back later for more. Note that the report is prepared by the cops (speaking broadly) and uses the expected neutral tone.

  7. 7

    The first thing I remember thinking when I read about the Cleveland chase is “wow, I hope nobody else had an emergency during that time”. It’s absolutely amazing how many resources one determined nut-job (in the LAPD case) or misunderstanding (in the Cleveland case) can consume.

    It’s also interesting that most of the big media organizations are failing to mention the political aspects of this Dorner guy’s manifesto: high praise of almost everything far left, including most “talking heads” (except the ones on Fox), Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, civilian disarmament, etc. Remember after the Colorado shooting last summer how quickly the stories spread about the “crazy tea-partier” who as it turns out simply had the same name as the actual murderer?

    Now I don’t think that the political leanings of a mass-murderer are worth anything when judging groups as a whole, it’s just interesting that it only really makes the news when they agree with the “other guy”.

  8. 8

    In favor of the cops, crack pipes were found in the car.

    There’s evidence that the victims might have done drugs, sometime, so therefore a full-on, hundred cop, Blue Brothers style car chase over busy city streets followed by a Bonnie and Clyde style roadside execution isn’t really all that bad? Is that what you’re suggesting?

  9. 9
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    For example, while searching for Dorner, they riddled two trucks with bullets simply because they were similar to the one Dorner was driving, hitting two women delivering newspapers, seriously injuring one of them. The people in the trucks had no resemblance to Dorner. People in the neighborhood reported being terrified by the fusillade of bullets that were unleashed.

    In other words, the cops are proving Dorner right.

    Yeah, I’m rooting for this guy because the LAPD has a long (and disgusting) history of racism, brutality, and coverups. After Rodney King, they got better at hiding it. If this is what it takes to take down that “culture” of rotten cops, so be it.

  10. 10

    “…In favor of the cops, crack pipes were found in the car.”

    IOW, clear proof of cops planting incriminating evidence – again.

    @Marcus: WTF was a cop going to do with an MP5 at a crowded Logan airport? Let’s hope it was just the semi-auto version – but you know it wasn’t. The “collateral damage” would be enormous.

  11. 11

    while trying to understand what is going on with the manhunt, it was stated by the news media that racism is at the foundation of it all. while watching the news media on several stations, we saw no people of african american representation, including all of the chiefs from every corner of the state?! we saw old white men in office with fear smeared on their faces. they proved that by shooting up several look alike trucks! they said that they are the target; are they also stating or admitting that they are the real reason for what started this sad and chaotic situation? we heard the chief of police say that they will now re-open the case to consider that mr dorner was bamboozled because he decided to be a whistle blower with one of his own; it took all of that to get them to do what should have been done in the first place?

    what a disgusting shame that racism still rules and kills. people still dying because of the racism that permeates throughout america’s windows. we cannot deny it at all. racism even pokes at our president. the media even prints the racism in its sick jokes. what happened to justice? what happened to equal rights? too often we are guilty of judging, sentencing and justifying our bigoted behavior with a posse and then execute our hate by the power we own!

    if it is good enough to re-open the case now– why not then? who puts these people in office? certainly not the honest working kind. all of this could have been avoided if the hatred didn’t dictate in the hands of those with the power that be~ we remember when they were looking for that young lady that had visited a restaurant in malibu and then died in malibu because the police heads said it was too dark, it was too cold, she can’t still be in malibu even though a neighbor called the police dept and identified seeing her; and their search still ended. no apology. no compensation to the public for not doing the job that they swore in to do. now the wounded and the families of the dead grieve because of hate. how disgustingly sad that america is ruled by bigotry. how sad is the day to learn that we have come no further than the back woods of a lynching mentality and the continuous racism has caused this mourning.

    the history books should be re-written. give the credit to the ones that deserve the credit. this month we recognize AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY; if we really want to give recognition we would re-write the history books to give them the credit that they have always deserved. then maybe those in power wouldn’t feel so all powerful?! then we would not need to set ONE MONTH A YEAR for recognition to some very genius people within the AFRICAN AMERICAN RACE. how about that? and make those in powerful offices accountable for their actions. like leading the people from the foundation of honesty. they must practice what they preach. equal rights for everyone. none of us own these lands. we all came by boat or ship trying to feed ourselves. our NATIVE BROTHERS AND SISTERS should come across the screens of our television for our young to be indoctrinated correctly. we are the implants. we could learn to be a bit humble as guests to these lands. there is no right race but the human race. think about it. fear begets hatred and hatred begets destruction. we will destroy the human race at this pace. we need to learn how to learn who we are and practice it on a daily basis. we are a chaotic mess in the city fields everywhere. too much lying and conniving practiced instead. greed and power dictating too many souls. we can do better than this only if we agree that we all bleed the same way. there is no super race. there is no superman or woman or child or pet. we are all in this together; and decide to either share the throne for good health or die in the name of greed. wake up america, because you are slowly dying.

  12. 12

    British airport police, as well as police in other sensitive areas (embassies, parliament etc) are regularly armed with MP5s, it’s a pretty common sight.

    Apparently, while the average bobby doesn’t get issued a firearm, the ones who do aren’t screwing around.

  13. 13

    question: does the amount of gunshot residue on the crackpipes match the rest of the car? im just wondering…

  14. 14
    Marcus Ranum

    Marcus: WTF was a cop going to do with an MP5 at a crowded Logan airport?

    Stomping around looking very officious. I did not get a chance to see if it was the full auto version but I would bet it is – cops are very pleased by their access to special toys including automatic weapons and you regularly find reports in various newspapers such as “so-and-so local police SWAT unit spends $20,000 on ammunition letting their friends play with submachine guns” The MP5 had a clip in it but I’d be willing to bet it was empty. I’d also be willing to bet that officer asshole had a loaded one somewhere on him.

  15. 15
    Marcus Ranum

    I was wearing a suit/tie/carrying a briefcase and said it semi sweetly and got the F out of there.

  16. 16
    Crudely Wrott

    According to news reports, Dorner’s burned up truck contained burned camping gear and at least some weaponry. There is also surveillance video showing him throwing magazines and other weapons (which were recovered by an employee of a local business and turned over to police) into a back alley dumpster.

    If these facts are true then Dorner is not as heavily armed as he is claimed to be. Though he remains a nasty little boy in a dangerously large adult body, my sense is that he has gone up into the hills and killed himself.

    I could be wrong, but I think he pretty much blew his wad by releasing his “manifesto” and killing three people and then realized that there was no way that he could shed the dayglo targets that he wears.

    Don’t be surprised if they find his body under a log or in a snowbank. As much as I’d like him to be taken alive (two chances, one fat the other slim which he had to be keenly aware of) and face justice, I think there is a better chance that what is left of him will be found by a hiker come spring.

  17. 17
    Marcus Ranum

    I could be wrong, but I think he pretty much blew his wad by releasing his “manifesto” and killing three people and then realized that there was no way that he could shed the dayglo targets that he wears.

    I see it differently – Dorner is following a made-for-TV-special script, and they don’t have that kind of ending, unfortunately.

  18. 18

    Some here are suggestion Dorner may have been set up, most says he was always a criminal. I have no opinion either way and no criticism of those who hold each view.

    But regardless of which is true, it’s moot. Had he only killed cops, he might have had an argument for self-defense. By killing family members of a cop, he’s lost any sympathy ears others might have gotten. (Or will we now hear conspiracy theories about him being framed for those murders?)

    What irks me is that the LAPD, with its long history of violence and corruption, is doing all the investigations – the manhunt, the capture, the evidence collection, etc. With such a conflict of interest and history of criminality, the investigation should be run by the state police or FBI to prevent LAPD members (possibly) executing a handcuffed prisoner or manufacturing evidence. The panicked and paranoid shooting of two innocent people certainly justifies it.

  19. 19
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    No, that happened after they did stop. They probably did not stop for reasons of normal fear of police, previous run-ins with the law, and mental illness.

  20. 20
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Er, was supposed to be a reply to 2

  21. 21

    Very true: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authorised_Firearms_Officer

    In other words the UK police who carry firearms are psychologically tested and trained before they are allowed to carry them around. Instead of giving lethal weapons to any tom dick or harry.

  22. 22

    I had the same thought. (And would add: With at least one officer firing 49 times?!?)

  23. 23

    I think you’re probably right. I’m still on the fence about Dorner. Obviously he shouldn’t have killed people, but I wonder if he actually did, or if it might have been self-defense. The media, of course, isn’t questioning the official line on the story, even though they have the potential to possibly break a huge story. Best not to rock the boat, I guess.

    Re: the Cleveland issue, now why would black folks have anything to fear from the police? I’d like to hear Tim Wise’s opinion on this.

  24. 24

    I am trying to view this situation from both sides of the coin. I am not condoning what they say that this guy did, but how to we know that he killed anyone? Remember this information is coming from the LAPD who obviously cannot be trusted. Remember people he is innocent until proven guilty. Sad part is that we will never hear his side, because the dead can’t talk.

    In the wake of 9/11, many citizens have witnessed the civilian police across the nation morph into militarized, antagonistic and provocative thugs. Many peoples rights are reduced as cops’ perceived powers have evolved within their ranks. Their mission is no longer to “protect and Serve” but instead their mandate appears to be “Intimidate, subjugate and dominate”. Remember the Arizona grandfather shopping Wal-mart on black Friday who, while handcuffed, was face slammed on the floor for what witnesses said was no apparent reason? How about the mentally impaired homeless man who was beaten to death? Or the two women subjected to cavity searches alongside a busy freeway, the list is a mile long with many incidents caught on tape. Widespread cell phone technology has provided many videos on you tube showing graphic unwarranted police brutality, intimidation and harassment with those responsible evading accountability. That is why anyone caught recording the police are harassed, arrested and lose their equipment. People no longer trust them and fear/loathing is slowly replacing respect/admiration. What you see unfolding with the Dorner’s story is the inevitable fallout as citizens no longer trust any of the people in authority. It’s going to get worse before it gets better as people realize the only true justice in today’s America is that which they forge for themselves. I don’t think anyone is supporting Dorner’s killings and rampage. Many people however see his plight and the corruption in the LAPD that caused him his career that he wanted his whole life. For anybody to loss their job on a “he say she say” situation is Ludicrous. I don’t see why someone would lie on their boss. Supposedly the lady he accused of using excessive force was known for those activities. My opinion is that Dorner did witness abuse and ironically it backfired. I don’t approve his tactics, but I think I understand.

  25. 25

    I was too neutral.

    The single tiny mention of the only thing in the cops favor in light of the huge pile of questions is meant to damn the cops. I expect most readers will assume the cops planted it. I suspect that as well but didn’t have evidence beyond the awfully suspicious total circumstances to make that assertion. Hence the use of juxtaposition.

  26. 26
    Brian M

    I bet if your name was “Kareem” and you were dressed in a hoody the situation would have been different.

  27. 27
    Brian M

    Our local suburban police force owns an armored personnel carrier.

  28. 28
    Marcus Ranum

    Oh, ouch, sounds like I called that one right. Unfortunately.

  29. 29
    Crudely Wrott

    As of this moment, 11:20 pm est, conflicting reports are battling it out. It has just been reported that a body has been removed from the burned cabin in which Dorner was alleged to be holed up. Reports indicate that police heard a single gunshot from the cabin just as it began to burn.

    About twenty minutes ago the chief of the LAPD appeared on CNN saying that no body had been recovered because the scene was too hot for investigators to enter. I find that a bit problematic since just before the president’s state of the union address began over two hours ago firefighters began pouring water on the burning structure.

    The police chief gave a hurried interview and took only one question on the CNN coverage. I wonder if that was a standard CYA move or if it was an accurate account. Well, we should have a much better idea by morning.

    As for Dorner following a script, he fell off the page when he tore the rear axle out of a perfectly good pickup truck the other day. From that point on he was ad libbing. I’ll stick with my original guesstimate.

    After jacking another vehicle this afternoon,he proceeded to tear that one up too, grabbed what he could of his dwindling supplies and hotfooted it through the woods till he found an unoccupied cabin, and broke in, just steps ahead of the police.

    Finding himself surrounded and in a panic he searched the building and found some accelerant, touched it off and did himself in with that single shot. That’s just a bare bones analysis but I think it will be borne out as the investigation matures. My guess is that the drama is over. Thus ends another asshole.

    What a waste. What a punk ass. What a sorry story.

    Ah, just now a police department spokesman is reaffirming the chief’s earlier claims. As always, I could be wrong. But still, these desultory adventures so frequently come to desultory ends . . .

  30. 30
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    This whole situation smells rotten — my gut says not to trust the LAPD and their “official” story.

  31. 31

    when the police are angry and scared, they seem to forget much of their training that tells them to not fire until a positive identification is made and act almost as recklessly as any one of us.

    Almost? When’s the last time you went on a high speed chase, firing shots at random? If you had, you would either be dead or in jail. How many of these cops went to jail for this stunt?

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