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Hunting Humans in California

by PETER LEE

Another element of the LA Times’ well-mannered coverage of the Christopher Dorner case that struck me was the incident in which police officers on the lookout for Dorner’s pickup truck shot up a vehicle driven by two newsies delivering the LA Times to homes in Torrance in the wee morning hours.

Here, as they say, are the relevant grafs:

The seven officers were working a protection detail Feb. 7 near the home of a high-ranking LAPD official who was a potential target for Dorner when they riddled the women’s blue Toyota Tacoma truck with bullets after mistaking it for Dorner’s gray Nissan truck.

The shooting occurred after the officers received a radio call that a pickup truck had exited the freeway and was heading their way. 

Jonas [lawyer for the two women] told The Times that the police officers gave “no commands, no instructions and no opportunity to surrender” before opening fire. He described a terrifying encounter in which the pair were in the early part of their delivery route through several South Bay communities.

Hernandez was in the back seat handing papers to her daughter, who was driving. Carranza would briefly slow the truck to throw papers on driveways and front walks. As bullets tore through the cabin, the two women “covered their faces and huddled down,” Jonas said. “They felt like it was going on forever.”

In an interview with The Times, Beck said the gunfire occurred in two bursts: The first came from an officer positioned down the block from the LAPD official’s residence, and the second when Carranza accelerated away from the gunfire and toward other officers.

Jonas estimated that the officers fired between 20 and 30 rounds. Photographsof the back of the truck showed at least two dozen bullet holes. Neighbors, <however, suggested there were more shots fired. The street was pockmarked with bullet holes in cars, trees, garage doors and roofs.

The LA Times deferentially declines to connect the dots but, reading between the lines, the term that leaps to mind is “ambush”.

If the motive was to deter an attack by Dorner with a conspicuous police presence, to my admittedly non-expert opinion, the LAPD could have simply ostentatiously parked three police cruisers outside the official’s house.

If, on the other hand, the idea was to lure Dorner into revealing himself by concealing evidence of police presence (and, for that matter, keeping the lid on the news that the LAPD already suspected Dorner in the Irvine shootings and had discovered his on-line manifesto with its list of proposed victims; as far as I can tell the LA Times only publicly named Dorner as a suspect the morning after the Torrance fiasco), then moving on Dorner after he hove into view on his mission of vengeance, that might explain why there were units on either side of the newspaper delivery truck as it approached the residence.

And, if the idea was simply to light up Dorner’s truck with a few dozen rounds from two sides in a kill box without  without prior warning, that looks something like an ambush.

Again reading between the lines, I would say that the LA Times and public opinion in general are willing to cut the LAPD a certain amount of slack.

Dorner was apparently a dangerous guy, a murderer, and he was stalking cops.  Since Dorner was an ex-cop himself, you can add the element of “LAPD cleaning up its own mess” omerta.

There has also been no publicized outcry over the the San Bernadino Sheriff’s Department’s use of incendiary tear gas shells to short circuit the siege in Big Bear instead of trying to wait Dorner out.

However, if those two women had died in that truck—parenthetically, no thanks to the LAPD that they lived, since one would think 20-30 rounds should have finished the job—there might have been more discussion of the downside of giving law enforcement a free hand to deal with Dorner.

And there is the awkward question of whether Dorner’s murderous behavior in San Bernardino County—such as the apparently unprovoked shooting of Riverside police officer Michael Crain and a trainee while their patrol car was stopped at a traffic light–was caused in part by his perception that the cops had a shoot-on-sight hunting license for him.  Maybe, maybe not. Guess we’ll never know the answer to that one.

I suspect—well, at least, I hope—that the report that the seven officers involved in the pickup truck incident have been removed from the field pending an investigation indicates that the LAPD is going to make sure that officers and their bosses treat the Dorner case as a one-off, and not a precedent.

Peter Lee edits China Matters. He can be reached at: chinamatters (at) prlee. org.

Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

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