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Why the LAPD's Hunt for Dorner Is Indefensible

The hunt for Christopher Dorner, which injured innocent civilians, reveals how little the department has changed.

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Chief Charlie Beck gave what is a well-practiced LAPD response to shots fired without warning at innocent, unarmed civilians, calling it “a tragic misinterpretation” by officers working under “incredible tension.” There is another word that more accurately describes such conduct, which is way outside of LAPD policy: “criminal.”

The official LAPD manual says that the “guiding value when using force shall be reverence for human life,” a  policy impossible to reconcile with the Feb. 7 shooting. LAPD officers are only authorized to use deadly force when it “reasonably believed to be an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.”

In the case of moving vehicles, “firearms shall not be discharged at a moving vehicle unless a person in the vehicle is immediately threatening the officer or another person with deadly force by means other than the vehicle. The moving vehicle itself shall not
presumptively constitute a threat that justifies an officer’s use of deadly force.”

The L.A. Times, citing unnamed law enforcement sources, reported that at least seven officers fired on the women, striking the truck at least a dozen times as well as nearby cars, trees and garage doors.

Richard Goo, five bullet holes in his nearby house, asked the right question: “How do you mistake two Hispanic women, one who is 71, for a large black male?” An equally good question is how police in suburban Torrance just minutes later mistook a slight, white male for the hulking, black suspect.

Shooting innocent people in the pursuit of a clearly murderous suspect like Dorner is not just wrong, it is indefensible. The question is whether it will result in disciplinary action against not just the officers in the two shootings – who should at least be fired if not indicted – but against the command staff whose first reaction was to defend the conduct.


David Cay Johnston, an investigative reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize while at The New York Times, is a best-selling author who teaches the business, tax and property law of the ancient world at Syracuse University College of Law.


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