The hard lessons learned from the Christopher Dorner case
When it comes to outing corruption and fighting for justice, Christopher Dorner, former Los Angeles Police Department officer turned killer, chose the path of insanity and violence to bring attention to his precarious cause. A man emotionally trapped by what he felt were deliberate cover-ups to protect certain officers, which eventually led to the demise of his own police and military careers, according to his manifesto, he saw no other option but to kill. Anyone who resorts to using such tactics, however, gets little done in the name of justice, if anything at all.
A major problem in this case is that, though his manifesto is littered with rantings of an enraged man, Dorner alleged serious problems that he believed had not only been ignored but condoned by the Los Angeles Police Department. The man waited four years after he was fired, and went through a series of legal processes to clear his name and get his job back, before he decided to strike back in the most violent and nonsensical ways when those processes failed. After killing four people, he led the LAPD and other law enforcement on a wild manhunt that eventually concluded with his charred remains and a bullet in his head in a cabin in Big Bear.
Dorner, a former Cal Lutheran University student, might have been, according to experts, suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome following his stints in the Middle East. There were also some warning signals with counselors at the LAPD, but little had been done to intervene. That aside, although his manifesto shed light on what he felt was corruption in the police department, many people believe Dorner to have been a raving lunatic, nothing more, and thereby justify brushing aside his accusations against the LAPD. Though the LAPD has reopened Dorner’s files, we can’t help but wonder what action will be taken if any of his accusations turn out to be true. Furthermore, the incidents of the two police officers who shot and injured two innocent women on their morning paper route plus a Torrance officer who just missed shooting an innocent man in the manhunt to capture Dorner might be resolved with new trucks and big payouts offered to the victims rather than full investigations and public disclosure of the facts.
In the last year, Ventura and Oxnard police departments have had their share of applying questionable tactics in difficult circumstances. While Dorner spoke out against a particular female officer in the LAPD who allegedly used excessive force against suspects and then bragged about it, we have seen three local cases of alleged excessive force. In Ventura in 2011, police officers rushed in on a man at his girlfriend’s house after asking him about a stolen iPad that may or may not have been located inside. When the man, Denny Fields, was approached by officers, Fields told them he wanted to talk to his attorney and tried to close the door, according to federal court records. The officers forced their way into the home. He was severely beaten, and attacked by a K-9 — over a stolen iPad. The case was eventually settled late last year, but the press release from the Ventura Police Department stated only, “The incident with Mr. Fields involved the City’s officers reacting to a volatile, violent and dynamic situation.” If Fields was so volatile and violent with police officers, why didn’t the district attorney want to prosecute him? And why did the police department decide to settle for $285,000? For the Ventura Police Department to somehow blame the victim, in this case Fields, for exercising his Fourth Amendment right that guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, raises the question of whether standard protocol is to shirk responsibility. All of the involved officers remain on duty.
In Oxnard, two men wound up dead after violent dealings with police. In June 2012, Robert Ramirez was pronounced dead after officers tried to subdue him while he was overdosing on several grams of methamphetamine. The Ramirez family claimed that officers beat him, but coroner officials could not prove those accusations and found that he died of asphyxia due to active prone restraint; the incident was ruled a homicide. In October, Alfonso Limon, an “innocent bystander” according to witnesses, was shot and killed by officers during a gun battle between several officers and two suspects. All of the officers still have their jobs while the district attorney and other law enforcement agencies investigate both cases, but we hope that when all is said and done, these two cases won’t just disappear quietly with a hefty payout to the victims’ families. Officers who have made our world a more dangerous place should be dealt with effectively. The only way to ensure the safety of the general public is to weed out those who can and have harmed us while acting within the system that is meant to serve and protect us.
While it is upsetting and frustrating that it took such reprehensible acts by a crazed man to open a discussion about competence in the ranks, now is not the time to turn a blind eye that could jeopardize our future safety and peace of mind. We stand behind LAPD Chief Charlie Beck in reopening the investigation of the 2008 Dorner firing and we encourage more and better training of our officers to avoid injuries and loss of human life, lest we condone excessive force in the name of duty.