Chris Dorner: Did police set fire with intent to kill?

The manhunt for ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner ended, but some journalists question if fatal fire was intended to kill, not capture. Photo: Cabin on fire / NBC 4 News Los Angeles

DALLAS, February 13th, 2013 – The manhunt for ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner ended yesterday when fire consumed his final hideout. The military-trained suspect had allegedly sought refuge in the harsh elements of Big Bear, California’s near snow-covered ski areas. Dorner was accused of targeting law enforcement and their families in a revenge-inspired killing spree.

According to police, gunfire exchanges occurred after Dorner killed and injured deputies while evading capture. He reportedly barricaded himself inside a remote cabin and remained there as law enforcement surrounded his position. With the suspect inside, officials reportedly smashed windows and detonated tear gas or smoke canisters while urging Dorner to surrender.

Without reply, officials rammed the building with a special vehicle before hearing what they believed was a gunshot from inside. Flames systematically engulfed the structure, and though Dorner’s body has not been identified at this time, authorities confirmed no one escaped the blaze. Though the chase is over, analysis of the case will occupy investigative resources in the coming months.


READ MORE: Chris Dorner finds an ally in Anonymous; the group explains why


As details are released, questions are emerging as to the origin of the cabin’s fire. The New York Times reported that the direct cause of the cabin fire was unknown while other outlets report “tear gas” and “smoke canisters” were deployed. Most outlets state simply that the “cabin caught on fire”, not that police officers intentionally set the cabin ablaze. 

But as events were unfolding, journalist Max Blumenthal live tweeted a different narrative reportedly lifted from San Bernadino Sheriff Scanner Channel 7/8 via the 5-0 iPhone app.

The live feed Blumenthal catalogued appears to indicate officers had no intention of encouraging Dorner’s surrender. He wrote, “While media acceded to police demands not to provide direct details of stand-off w/Christopher Dorner, I used PD scanner transmissions to expose orders to burn his cabin hideout w/him inside. TL begins at bottom [sic].”

If the audio recording captured by Blumenthal is indeed from the incident, officers are overheard apparently discussing a pre-arranged arson attack. Per the audio, at around the one-minute mark, a male voice says:

All right, Steve (?), we’re gonna go, er, we’re gonna go forward with the plan, with, er, with the burn. We want it, er, like we talked about.

He then adds shortly afterwards:

Seven burners deployed and we have a fire.

A female voice responds:

Copy. Seven burners deployed and we have a fire.

At around 2min 20sec, a male voice says:

Guys, be ready on the No 4 side. We have fire in the front. He might come out the back.

At around 2min 50sec, a male voice requests a fire engine.

It was reported by USA Today that Dorner attempted to flee out of the back of the cabin, but was pushed back inside by authorities later demanding surrender. Authorities over the scanner confirm a shot fired from within the residence, followed by a sharp, unknown noise.

Another video surfaced allegedly featuring a recording of KCAL TV, an LA CBS affiliate, in which an unknown officer shouts angrily, “We’re going to burn him out,” and “Burn this mother***ker!” With the remarks airing live, the feed was silenced before the anchor explained apologetically that police officers were “understandably upset”.

An additional supposed recording from a police scanner was later pulled and posted via LiveLeak. The narrative includes numerous references to “burning him out” (29:30).

At this time, some have claimed references to “burning” Dorner out are police slang for tear gas canisters, not incendiary or smoke devices known to quickly start fires against wooden structures. 

Because news helicopters acquiesced to zoom out requests despite confirmation from cabin owners that television, Internet or telephone communications were impossible, an aerial view is unavailable. It is reported by those listening that police scanners and media streams were jammed, but confirmation of this allegation is also unavailable at this time.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck accurately concluded, “This could have ended much better; it could have ended worse. I feel for the family of the deputy who lost his life.”

Undoubtedly, Americans join his sentiment. By his own words, Dorner was intent on inflicting as much damage and as many casualties as possible on law enforcement officers and their families without remorse. He was a murderer, and a continued danger to society while at-large.

Though an eerie rift between those viewing Dorner as a demented anti-hero and those supporting law enforcement’s actions has emerged, a larger issue looms; one concerning the decay of law enforcement-citizen relations Dorner warned of in his manifesto.

One rescinds their right to not be killed when actively murdering others, but if authorities intentionally “burned” Dorner out of his barricade with intent to kill and not capture, they have duty and obligation to honestly share their actions with the public. With the high publicity of this incident captivating the collective attention of Americans growing concerned about the shocking increases of police violence, this opportunity for transparency is extraordinary.

Not so long ago peace officers protected and served the citizens as guardians of justice, due process and order. The dangerous, desperate and unlawful actions of Los Angeles Police department while pursuing Dorner resulted in the attempted murder of three unarmed citizens. This horrifying “capture or kill” attitude is rarely exposed, leaving many to wonder how often such incidents occur. Police officers are not above the law they swore an oath to serve.

There were multiple agencies involved in the stand-off. The discrepancies the audio present may very well be justified, but at this time the public’s trust is broken. If the Los Angeles SWAT team and other affiliate law enforcement agencies involved in the Dorner manhunt fail to address this growing controversy, they miss a chance to repair their relationship with the public. 

Without operational and post-situation clarity, Dorner’s complaints of systematic injustice and warped, vigilante desire to expose corruption achieved its purpose.

CORRECTION: Earlier version of this article cited “Los Angeles Police Department”. It has been altered to reflect “Los Angeles SWAT”.


READ MORE from Tiffany Madison at her column, Citizen Warrior


 


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Tiffany Madison

Tiffany is a writer and veteran's advocate. Her column focuses on civil liberties, veteran's issues and current events. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanymadisonFacebook or her website.

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