LOS ANGELES — Fired Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner’s claim in an online “manifesto” that his career was undone by racist colleagues conspiring against him comes at a time it’s widely held that the police department has evolved beyond the troubled racial legacy of Rodney King and the O.J. Simpson trial.
Dorner, 33, who is suspected in three slayings last week, has depicted himself as a black man wronged, whose badge was unjustly taken in 2008 after he lodged a complaint against a white female supervisor.
“It is clear as day that the department retaliated toward me,” Dorner said in Facebook writings authorities have attributed to him. Racism and officer abuses, he wrote, have not improved at the Los Angeles Police Department since the King beating but have “gotten worse.”
Dorner’s problems at the LAPD, which ended with his dismissal, played out without public notice more than four years ago, as the department gradually emerged from federal oversight after a corruption scandal. At the time, the officer ranks were growing more diverse and then-Chief William Bratton was working hard to mend relations with long-skeptical minorities.
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“This is no longer your father’s LAPD,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in 2009, after the federal clampdown was ended.
Civil-rights attorney Connie Rice said the department should review the Dorner case and his claims, while she emphasized she was not defending the suspect in any way and was shocked by the attacks.
She said the 10,000-member force headquartered in a glass-walled high-rise in downtown Los Angeles has entered a new era. “The open racism of the days before is gone,” said Rice, who closely tracks racial issues inside the department and has faced off against the LAPD in court. “The overall culture has improved enormously.”
Police say Dorner shot and killed a couple in a parking garage last weekend in Irvine, the beginning of a rampage he said was retribution for his mistreatment at LAPD. The woman who died was the daughter of a retired police captain who had represented Dorner in the disciplinary proceedings that led to his dismissal. Hours after authorities identified Dorner as a suspect in the double homicide, police believe he shot and grazed an LAPD officer and later used a rifle to ambush two Riverside police officers, killing one and seriously wounding the other.
On Friday, a community of online sympathizers formed, echoing complaints against police that linger in some communities. One Facebook page supporting Dorner, which quickly picked up thousands of fans, said: “this is not a page about supporting the killing of innocent people. It’s supporting fighting back against corrupt cops and bringing to light what they do.”
Firing case to be reopened
As the hunt for Dorner continued Saturday near where his burned-out pickup was found in the snowy mountains near Big Bear Lake, police said they will reopen the disciplinary proceedings that led to his firing.
Officials will particularly re-examine Dorner’s accusations that his law-enforcement career was undone by racist colleagues, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told KCBS-TV. He also urged Dorner to surrender. “If he was to give himself up, we’d be happy to hear what he has to say,” Beck said.
Officers found weapons in the truck, a law-enforcement officer said. Investigators have been examining the truck to determine if it broke down or was set ablaze as a diversion. Police say the truck had a broken axle.
The officer spoke on condition of anonymity.
The LAPD was once synonymous with violent and bigoted officers, whose culture and brand of street justice was depicted by Hollywood in films such as “L.A. Confidential” and “Training Day.”
In the 1980s, gang sweeps took thousands of young people into custody.
The O.J. Simpson trial deepened skepticism of a department already tarnished by the videotaped beating of Rodney King, the black motorist who was hit with batons, kicked repeatedly and jolted with stun guns by officers who chased him for speeding. Rioting after a jury with no black members acquitted three of the LAPD officers on state charges and a mistrial was declared for a fourth lasted three days, killing 55 people.
In the Rampart scandal of the late 1990s, scores of criminal convictions were thrown out after members of an anti-gang unit were accused of beating and framing residents in a poor, largely minority neighborhood. A handful of officers were convicted of various crimes and the scandal led to federal oversight that lasted eight years.
Much has changed: Whites now make up roughly a third of the department and, while under federal authority, LAPD moved to require anti-gang and narcotics officers to disclose their finances and worked on new tools to track officer conduct.
When Bratton said in 2009 he was stepping down, he said he hoped his legacy would be improved race relations. “I believe we have turned a corner in that issue,” he said.
Dorner’s case in some ways reflects the diversity of the LAPD: the superior he accused of abuse was a woman and the man who represented him at his disciplinary hearing was the first Chinese-American captain in department history.
When Dorner, a Naval reservist, returned to LAPD after deployment to the Middle East in 2007, a training officer became alarmed by his conduct, which included weeping in a police car and threatening to file a lawsuit against the department, records show.
Six days after being notified in August 2007 that he could be removed from the field, Dorner accused the training officer, Sgt. Teresa Evans, of kicking a schizophrenic man in the chest and left cheek while handcuffing him during an arrest.
However, his report to internal affairs came two weeks after the arrest, police and court records allege.
Civilian and police witnesses said they didn’t see Evans kick the man, who had a quarter-inch scratch on his cheek consistent with his fall into a bush. A police review board ruled against Dorner, leading to his dismissal.
Claims of conflict
Online, Dorner tells a different story. He argues he was “terminated for doing the right thing.”
“I had broken their supposed ‘Blue Line.’ Unfortunately, It’s not JUST US, it’s JUSTICE!!!” he wrote. Dorner said in the posting that his account was supported by the alleged victim. He also claims the board that heard his case had conflicts because of ties to Evans, the training officer.
Beck, the Los Angeles police chief, said he did not give any credence to the claims Dorner made about racism in the department. “If you want to give any attribution to his ramblings on the Internet, go right ahead. But I do not.”
Bratton expressed concern at the fallout of Dorner’s statements, suggesting they might become a rallying cry for the disaffected. “Just look at the Facebook postings around this issue and some of the crazies that come out of the woodwork who are rallying to this guy’s cause,” he said
Rice, meanwhile, pointed out that while the LAPD culture has improved, pockets of bad behavior remain.
That was echoed by Hector Villagra, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
“There has definitely been improvement from those dark days,” Villagra said. “We are in a vastly different place, but there still are opportunities for improvement in this and any other police department.”
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.