It began with a message to America. It ended with smoldering ash. When ex-cop Richard Dorner decided to wreak revenge on the Los Angeles Police Department – an act that he called “a necessary evil” in a Facebook post on February 4, 2013 – it led to one of the most dramatic and violent confrontations since the days of the Wild West.
“I am a son, I am a brother, I am a military service member,” he wrote. “I am a man who has lost complete faith in the system, when the system betrayed, slandered, and libeled me … The culture of LAPD versus the community and honest/good officers needs to and will change. I am here to correct and calibrate your morale [sic] compasses to true north…”
According to Dorner, the Rodney King and Rampart scandals of the 1990s had done nothing to change the LAPD. Both events exposed serious misconduct in the department, revealing a dangerous tendency towards racism, violence and corruption. So it is perhaps not hard to understand why some people apparently empathized with Dorner. But was he really the hero he thought he was?
Born in New York on September 11, 1979, Dorner grew up in a predominantly white environment in southern California. He claimed to have been subjected to racist abuse in both junior and high school. As an adult, he went on to complete a degree in political science at Southern Utah University, before serving as a U.S. Navy Reserve officer. He had a disarming smile – and the imposing physique of a 6-foot-tall bodybuilder.
In 2005 Dorner fulfilled a childhood ambition and joined the police academy. He subsequently graduated in 2006. Ultimately, however, his dream was not to be. During his probationary training in 2007 he filed a complaint against his partner, Teresa Evans. Dorner claimed that he had seen her kicking a mentally ill man while the man was handcuffed on the ground. The LAPD launched an investigation. And it did not turn out well for Dorner.
Dorner was in fact fired for allegedly providing false reports about his partner. He appealed against the decision in two different courts, but the decision was upheld. As a result, Dorner fell into a deep depression. He believed that he was the victim of racism and slander. His name was tarnished. And when he was honorably discharged from the Navy in 2013, he held the LAPD responsible.
According to friends, the ex-cop had a tendency to nurture grievances. A former girlfriend, Denise Jensen, told the Los Angeles Times that Dorner could turn on people abruptly. A woman who rented a room from him claimed that she was kicked out when she turned down his sexual advances. And his training record at the LAPD stated he had physically assaulted other recruits. So was Dorner the victim of a conspiracy? Or was he just an angry man with an extreme sense of victimhood?
On February 3, 2013, Dorner, an expert marksman, took aim at 28-year-old Monica Quan, the daughter of Randal Quan – the retired police captain and lawyer who had represented him during his dismissal hearing. She was seated in her white Kia Optima in a parking lot at the time. Next to her was 26-year-old Keith Lawrence, her fiancé. Dorner opened fire, killing them both. His reign of terror had begun.
The next day, Dorner published his so-called “manifesto” on Facebook – an 11,000-word document detailing his grievances against the LAPD. “No one grows up and wants to be a cop killer,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, this is a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake…” Realizing that Dorner had been responsible for the murders of Quan and Lawrence, the department scrambled to protect the 30 people on Dorner’s “kill list,” including Teresa Evans.
Meanwhile, Dorner may have had a change of heart. On the evening of February 6 he attempted to hijack a yacht moored in San Diego’s Southwestern Yacht Club. Armed with a handgun, he ordered the yacht’s 81-year-old owner, Carlos Caprioglio, to take him to Mexico. Dorner managed to scupper his own plan, however, by throwing the mooring rope into the water. It became entangled on the propeller, preventing their departure.
So Dorner left Caprioglio tied up on the sundeck and resumed his rampage. At around 1:30 a.m. on February 7, according to a taxi driver parked at the intersection of Magnolia and Arlington avenues, Dorner, now clad in wraparound goggles and a camouflage jacket, drove up next to a patrol vehicle and pointed an armor-piercing assault rifle through his window. He fired 13 rounds in all. Inside, Officer Michael Crain was killed almost instantly. Officer Andrew Tachias was severely wounded.
Four hours later, police sighted a Toyota Tacoma 60 miles away in Torrance, close to the house of a captain on Dorner’s kill list. Believing that Dorner was the driver, the cops fired some 100 rounds at the vehicle, peppering it with holes. However, the drivers were actually two Salvadorian women doing a paper round. And one of them was in her 70s. They sustained gunshot injuries, but thankfully survived.
Dorner had not even been driving a Toyota Tacoma, in fact. He had instead been driving a Nissan Titan. And later that morning it was discovered abandoned and burned out on an icy road – Forest Service Road 2N10, which climbed high into the San Bernadino Mountains. Dorner had apparently gained access to the private road using bolt-cutters. And he may have abandoned his vehicle after it slid on the ice and became stuck.
Police and SWAT teams immediately mobilized and put the area on lockdown. They installed roadblocks in and around Big Bear Lake, a city with thousands of houses and potential hiding places. Armed units scoured the cabins and campgrounds. Choppers flew overhead. Local residents barricaded themselves inside. And the media arrived to cover developments in the unfolding manhunt.
Then on February 12 Dorner was discovered by two hoteliers, Jim and Karen Reynolds. Unbeknownst to them, he had been hiding out in one of the condo units at their resort, apparently for several days. After gagging the couple and tying them up with electrical cord, he stole their Nissan Rogue. But he also left Karen’s smartphone on a coffee table, enabling her to alert the police.
Dorner was soon spotted on Highway 38 by a couple of San Bernandino County Deputies and a pair of Fish and Wildlife Wardens. He was driving the Nissan Rogue and trailing two school buses, possibly for cover. The officers pursued him downhill through snow-blanketed forest. After a mile, they discovered the Nissan crashed in a snowbank, but Dorner himself was nowhere to be seen. In fact, Dorner had already hijacked a second vehicle – a silver Dodge Ram.
A warden later recognized Dorner as he drove past him, however. Alerted to his whereabouts, two San Bernadino County sheriff’s deputies pursued him down a hill. They came to a lone cabin in the woods, but there was no sign him or his vehicle. Unbeknownst to them, Dorner had dispatched the Dodge to the bottom of an embankment. And he was now hiding in the cabin, armed.
Bullets soon starting flying. Detective Alex Collins was shot in the face, causing his jaw to shatter. Further rounds stuck him in the knee-cap, the forearm and the chest. He collapsed at the back of a police car and started choking on blood. Deputy Jeremiah MacKay, meanwhile, was trying to direct an overhead helicopter to the scene. For a split second, he broke cover, allowing Dorner to shoot him in the chest. He died moments later.
Police subsequently surrounded the cabin and a stand-off ensued. But Dorner would not surrender. So the officers made a controversial decision: to shoot CS gas canisters into the building. Also known as “burners,” the canisters ae known to start fires. And that’s exactly what happened. Before long, in fact, the cabin was engulfed in flames. Yet Dorner still did not come out.
The cabin burned down and forensics later identified the corpse inside. It was Dorner. He had apparently killed himself with a 9-millimeter Glock. Meanwhile, the cost of his actions has been heavy. Detective Collins underwent multiple surgeries but eventually managed to recover. Officer Tachias, however, has lost some degree of movement in his both his arms, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In addition, the families of Crain, MacKay, Lawrence and Quan, as well as Teresa Evans, must bear the psychological scars of Dorner’s brutal rampage. In a city scarred by police misconduct, some people were reluctant to condemn Dorner. But his suicide mission looks a lot more like terrorism than any kind of social justice.