RIVERSIDE – An ex-LAPD officer who went on a killing rampage in Southern California that left a Riverside cop and three others dead created ”havoc” for which law enforcement agencies were unprepared, leading to communication gaps and other operational flaws that highlight the need for reforms, according to a report released today.
In a 102-page assessment of the February 2013 response to the actions of 33-year-old Christopher Jordan Dorner, the nonprofit Police Foundation found that while investigators were able to determine relatively quickly that Dorner was their man, coordinating the search for him and executing plans once he was boxed in proved problematic.
The report’s narrative begins with the slayings of Keith Lawrence and Monica Quan, who were shot as they sat in Lawrence’s SUV outside an Irvine condominium complex on the night of Feb. 3, 2013. The couple were targeted as a result of Quan’s father’s involvement in Dorner’s termination from the police force.
According to the narrative, the Irvine Police Department was baffled by the ”gang-style hit” and found itself immersed in a
”real whodunit” offering few clues until a National City police officer in San Diego County provided key information on the suspect’s possible identity after finding body armor, a helmet and other items belonging to Dorner in a dumpster.
When an LAPD sergeant who had worked with Dorner and testified during the Board of Rights hearing that culminated in his termination in 2009 for lying learned that her name and address had been found among the items, the investigation rapidly picked up steam, according to the report.
On Feb. 6, Dorner’s Facebook ”manifesto” was discovered, containing his diatribe against a supposed conspiracy against him. Dorner referred to ”high-value targets” that he intended to eliminate.
A total of 77 people and their families were identified as at risk in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties. Irvine police announced the Dorner manhunt on the night of Feb. 6.
At 1:23 a.m. on Feb. 7, he attacked two Los Angeles police officers dispatched to a Corona home on protective detail. Less than 10 minutes after the assault, Dorner opened fire on a Riverside police car stopped at the intersection of Arlington and Magnolia avenues. Riverside police Officer Michael Crain was killed, and Officer Andrew Tachias was severely wounded.
The report notes that the Corona Police Department had only just relayed information on the attack on the two LAPD officers a minute before Crain and Tachias came under fire.
According to the Police Foundation, a ”rumor mill of (Dorner) sightings” exploded after the shootings, making it difficult for law enforcement agencies ”hundreds of miles” apart to keep up. One false report culminated in LAPD officers opening fire on a pickup truck similar to the one Dorner was driving. It was occupied by two women on a newspaper route, neither of whom suffered life-threatening injuries.
After his burned-out vehicle was discovered near Big Bear, the search for Dorner focused on the mountains of San Bernardino County. A heavy snowstorm moved into the area, complicating the manhunt.
On Feb. 12, the operators of a 12-unit winter lodge on Club View Drive went into an apartment to haul away a mattress and encountered Dorner hiding out there. Both were bound and gagged at gunpoint, after which Dorner stole their Nissan Rogue SUV. Minutes later, he carjacked the owner of a pickup truck near the Tahquitz Boy Scout Camp, triggering a massive convergence of law enforcement officers to the area, according to the report.
San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies pursued Dorner down Seven Oaks Road, to a line of cabins. The ex-cop opened fire on the lawmen as they drew close to one residence. Deputy Jeremiah MacKay was killed, while his partner, Deputy Alex Collins, was wounded.
”The San Bernardino Police Department was the only agency requested to assist … yet hundreds of units from numerous agencies started steering up … toward the shooting scene,” according to the narrative.
Ten minutes into the gunfight, Dorner shot himself, and the cabin where he had holed up burned to the ground.
According to the Police Foundation, the Dorner case ”provides an illuminating” example of how ”command and control” can suffer during multi- jurisdictional incidents.
The authors noted that at one point, there were three different command posts humming with activity — in Irvine, Los Angeles and Big Bear.
”Throughout the events, agency assumptions about each other tended toward the negative,” with each following different protocols, the report states.
The authors emphasized the need for across-the-board improvements, from ensuring a unified command structure to ending petty jurisdictional disputes so that future region-wide law enforcement operations are not hamstrung.
Recommendations include the need:
— for disparate law enforcement agencies to ”develop relationships” in advance for the sake of ”emergency coordination and response”;
— to create ”virtual command centers” to help provide structure for dispersed personnel;
— to reinforce ”chain-of-command” and for supervisors to better control officers in the field, reining them in when necessary;
— to ensure communication links during a region-wide crisis are unbroken, giving agencies ”inter-operable” communication technology;
— to establish a ”joint operational strategy” early to prevent confusion and provide clear management of resources; and
— to ”build trust before major events” to lessen competitiveness and improve ”mutual respect between personnel within and across agencies.”
”In some ways, Dorner was an anomaly — a well-armed attacker who knew police tactics,” the authors concluded. ”But police chiefs and county sheriffs … agree that a small force of knowledgeable terrorists bent on creating havoc could easily replicate such attacks. While the attacks were portrayed as only being directed toward police, the disruption they caused put an entire region at risk.”