Saturday, February 16, 2013

L.A. story: Dorner, the LAPD and what comes next

THE CHRISTOPHER Dorner saga ended on Wednesday with a self-inflicted gunshot, one in the dome that was a ballistic exclamation point on a 6,000-word manifesto, four deaths and one of the strangest manhunts in southern California history.

“The information that we have right now seems to indicate that the wound that took Christopher Dorner's life was self-inflicted,” San Bernardino Sheriff's Capt. Kevin Lacy told reporters Friday at a news conference.

The search for Dorner, which spread across southern California and even briefly into Mexico, ended at a cabin-style condo within 100 yards of a law enforcement command post for the manhunt in the San Bernardino National Forest near Big Bear Lake.

Reacting to that disclosure, Ed Tatosian, a retired SWAT commander for the Sacramento Police Department, called it "chilling. That's the only word I could use for that. It's not an unfathomable oversight. We're human. It happens."

It’s not the first time a fugitive took to hiding in (almost) plain sight, and it sure as hell won’t be the last. But what’s also no longer in hiding is the suspicion that life for African Americans inside the LAPD can be as pressurized and bigoted, as fraught with bias and animosity as it is outside.

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Before Dorner was cornered in that cabin, former LAPD officer Joe Jones had something to get off his chest.

“The 1st thing I would say to [Dorner] is, I feel your pains!," Jones wrote in his own manifesto, which was posted to Jones' Facebook page and circulated by the group Anonymous on Feb. 12. “But you are going about this the wrong way. To take innocent lives could never be the answer to anything. I say this as a Man who experienced the same pain, betrayal, anger, suffering, litigation and agony that you did in many ways.”

Jones, who retired in 1998 after working in the LAPD's Wilshire, West Valley and West Los Angeles divisions, offers some specific examples:

“I had my Civil Rights violated on several occasions. I was falsely arrested at gunpoint by the Sheriffs as an Officer who ID'd himself and was conspired against by both LAPD and the Sheriffs when my Civil case went to Trial. ...

“I was falsely accused on more than one occasion and simply placed in a position that the trust was so compromised that I could no longer wear the Uniform. Also know there were many more episodes. All of these issues are well documented ...”

"Bro, Don't kill anymore Innocent people,” Jones writes. “Your point has been made. Clearly. They know you mean business, the whole world knows.”

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THE QUESTION is, now that the LAPD knows, what happens next? A Thursday story at the Time Web site indicates that, among black Angelenos, plus ├ža change is the order of the day.

Connie Rice, an attorney who has sued the department for misconduct and racial bias in the past, told Time that Dorner’s assertions “ “revived the ghosts” of the LAPD’s past. “This is on such a massive scale in terms of its impact, I’m quite sure there’s been damage.”

Despite the department’s tragic history, Rice conceded that the LAPD of old is no longer in effect. ““The old culture, in which the top command, from the chief all the way down to the lowest officer, condoned and approved of open racism — that LAPD is gone,” she told Time, adding the current LAPD “seeks the trust of the poor black and poor Latino communities.”

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No doubt eager to build on that historical momentum, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced last week, while Dorner was still on the run, that the department would reopen its inquiry into Dorner’s original accusations, outlined in detail in his manifesto.

In a statement, Beck said: “I am aware of the ghosts of the LAPD’s past and one of my biggest concerns is that they will be resurrected by Dorner’s allegations of racism within the Department.

“But, I also know that we are a better organization now than ever before; better but not perfect. Fairness and equality are now the cornerstones of our values and that is reflected by the present diversity of the department. We are a majority of minorities, almost exactly reflecting the ethnic makeup of Los Angeles.

“As hard as it has been to change the culture of the Los Angeles Police Department, it has been even more difficult to win and maintain the support of the public. ...

“Therefore I feel we need to also publicly address Dorner’s allegations regarding his termination of employment, and to do so I have directed our Professionals Standards Bureau and my Special Assistant for Constitutional Policing to completely review the Dorner complaint of 2007; to include a re-examination of all evidence and a re-interview of witnesses. We will also investigate any allegations made in his manifesto which were not included in his original complaint.

“I do this not to appease a murderer. I do it to reassure the public that their police department is transparent and fair in all the things we do.”

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However long it takes — there’s nothing in Beck’s statement about a timetable for getting it done — the city (and the nation) waits to hear how that re-examination plays out. If there’s any hope of keeping the ghosts of the LAPD’s past in the past, the sooner the better.

“The way [Dorner] responded to discrimination is not the correct way,” Donald Tibbs, a law professor at Drexel University, told Time.

“At the same time, his accusations seem to take us back and remind us of the days of old — maybe they’re not so old.”

Image credits: Dorner manhunt screenshot: KABC-TV. Dorner, Jones: LAPD. Beck: via

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