LOS ANGELES (AP) — Eight Los Angeles police officers violated department policy when they mistakenly riddled a pickup truck with bullets, injuring two women, during a manhunt last year for cop-turned-killer Christopher Dorner, a civilian oversight board announced Tuesday.
Police Chief Charlie Beck and Alex Bustamante, inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Commission, independently recommended that the shooting be ruled out of policy, commission President Steve Soboroff said. He did not provide further details.
Beck will decide disciplinary measures for the officers, who were assigned to non-field duties during an LAPD investigation. Possible measures could include extensive retraining, suspensions or even firings.
At a news conference, Beck said he couldn't comment on what discipline the officers may receive because their information is private under state law. He said "these officers will all and have all received extensive training as had the whole Los Angeles Police Department relative to these types of issues."
Los Angeles Police Protective League spokesman Eric Rose said the union's president, Tyler Izen, was waiting to review the commission's report before providing comment. Last year, the city paid the women $4.2 million to settle a claim. That was in addition to a separate $40,000 settlement for the loss of their truck.
The Police Commission's determination didn't surprise the women's attorney, Glen Jonas. "There (are) 4.2 million reasons I have to believe it's out of policy," he said. "Anyone with any common sense would agree it's out of policy."
Dorner, a fired Los Angeles police officer, claimed he was unfairly dismissed and vowed revenge against law enforcement officers in a rambling online manifesto. He killed the daughter of a former LAPD police official along with her fiance and two law enforcement officers over 10 days before being cornered and killing himself in a burning mountain cabin in San Bernardino County.
On Feb. 7, 2013, Los Angeles police guarding the Torrance home of a high-profile target named in Dorner's manifesto opened fire on a pickup truck they thought was Dorner's. It actually contained the two women delivering newspapers.
"This was a tragic cascade of circumstances that led to an inaccurate conclusion by the officers," the police chief said. The officers had earlier learned that the target's wife recently had seen Dorner in the neighborhood appearing to case the location, and just prior to the shooting officers heard over police radio that Dorner was getting off the freeway nearby, Beck said. In the early morning hours, officers said they saw the blue Toyota pickup "creeping" down the road, according to the chief's report, with its high beams and flashers on.
In his report to the commission, the chief said he expected that officers "make every effort that they determine that the truck was in fact Dorner's." He wrote, "While there were similarities, the truck that approached was a different make and model, different color, had no ski racks and no over-sized tires."
Beck said officers opened fire immediately after one woman threw a newspaper and an officer mistook the sound of it hitting the pavement for gunfire. "There is no evidence to support that they were holding an object that could be reasonably perceived to be an imminent deadly threat," Beck wrote in his report. He said an officer with similar training and experience would not reasonably perceive a deadly threat in the same situation.
"I sympathize with the officers, but I have a very high standard for the application of deadly force, and the shooting did not meet that standard," he said Tuesday. Officers fired 103 rounds, and up to 40 of the shots hit the walls, windows and garages of nearby homes, Jonas said.
Emma Hernandez, who was 71 at the time, was shot in the back, and her daughter, Margie Carranza, then 47, suffered minor injuries. Hernandez recovered except for some slight shoulder problems but neither woman returned to work, Jonas said, adding that Carranza tried but "it was too traumatic for her."
"The emotional and mental trauma is still there and they're still dealing with that," he said. The shooting occurred hours after Dorner opened fire with an assault rifle on two Los Angeles police officers who had stopped his pickup in the Riverside County city of Corona.
During the resulting gun battle, one officer was grazed and the other was sprayed with shattered glass. Donner fled and a short time later shot two Riverside police officers, killing one. "Both of these incidents were tragic for all involved, the officers who were injured in the first incident and the innocent women injured in the incident in the City of Torrance," Soboroff said in a statement. "As in all use of force incidents, the department has completed a thorough review and will adopt the lessons learned, both good and bad from these incidents."
Soboroff said the Police Commission followed Beck's recommendation that the lethal use of force in Torrance was out of policy, making its determination after nearly three hours of discussion and months of investigation by the Police Department.
The same day that the women's pickup was shot up in Torrance, a police officer in that Los Angeles suburb opened fire on another pickup truck. Torrance police Officer Brian McGee believed Dorner was in the truck when he rammed it and opened fire, according to Los Angeles County prosecutors who determined that his use of force was reasonable and declined to file criminal charges. McGee has not been disciplined by his agency.
David Perdue, of Redondo Beach, who was on his way to surf, wasn't shot but he suffered head and spinal injuries. The city of Torrance paid him $20,000 for the damage to his truck and he has filed a federal lawsuit.