LOS ANGELES — As the manhunt for Christopher Dorner gripped Southern California last month, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced a $1 million reward for the capture of the fired Los Angeles police (LAPD) officer.
Two claims have been made on the money since Dorner’s death Feb. 12 — by a couple near Big Bear who were tied up and whose car was stolen and by a man whose pickup Dorner later hijacked. Now, however, some groups that pledged money are reconsidering.
They said they offered the reward for information that would have led to the capture and conviction of Dorner, neither of which occurred. Dorner committed suicide when cornered in a burning cabin near Big Bear.
Underlying their objections is a moral argument that donors will not make publicly. Some find the claims for the money unseemly.
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They believe reward seekers had called police to report they were victims of crimes by Dorner and now seek to profit from their brief encounters, which left them unharmed, during a rampage that devastated the families of police officers and others he killed.
Police think Dorner went on a 10-day killing rampage of revenge against law-enforcement officials he blamed for his 2009 firing from the force. Dorner is thought to have killed Riverside police Officer Michael Crain; San Bernardino County sheriff’s Deputy Jeremiah MacKay; Monica Quan, the daughter of a retired LAPD captain; and Quan’s fiancé, Keith Lawrence.
More than 25 donors pledged reward money, including state and local police unions, civic organizations and individuals. But now, many are hesitating to follow through.
“I’ve spoken with some groups — including a few that are substantial — that have already decided to withdraw their pledges,” said Ron Cottingham, president of the 64,000-member union Peace Officers Research Association of California, which has placed its own pledge on hold pending additional information. “They said the reward doesn’t fit their criteria.”
The LAPD says the money should be paid. LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said that to deny someone the reward because Dorner died before he could be put on trial “would be disingenuous” and would undermine future attempts by police to get information about unsolved crimes by offering rewards.
Donors specified that the money they pledged was for Dorner’s arrest and conviction. But Villaraigosa broadened it to “capture” in his public remarks — and that word could be interpreted to include being surrounded before committing suicide.
Later in the news conference announcing the reward, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said pointedly: “For those of you with questions about how the reward works: The reward is for the capture and the conviction.”
Further clouding the issue is the language of a written statement the LAPD issued saying the reward was “for information leading to the apprehension and conviction” of Dorner. The department recently proposed replacing that phrase with “identification and capture.” State and local law-enforcement unions that pledged money rejected the change.
LAPD officials said a group of detectives investigating the Dorner case will make a recommendation to the donors regarding whether certain people were instrumental in catching Dorner and how much money they deserve.
Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which also had pledged money, said his organization “is waiting for additional information from the LAPD about the incident before determining whether to pay the reward.”
Vicki Curry, a mayor’s spokeswoman, said money for a reward was solicited before any decisions were made about terms or conditions. “It came together fairly quickly over that weekend in the midst of the chaos, and now we’ve got to figure it out,” Curry said.
Information was delivered Feb. 12 in a 911 call made by Karen Reynolds, who, with her husband, Jim, had been taken captive briefly before Dorner stole their car.
Before leaving, Dorner warned the couple not to call police. Karen Reynolds did so anyway.
Shortly afterward, Dorner crashed their car, and Rick Heltebrake, a Boy Scout camp ranger, called a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy to report that his pickup had been hijacked.
The Reynoldses’ claim, filed by their attorney, Kirk Hallam, says their information was immediately radioed to officers in the Big Bear Lake area.
State Fish and Wildlife wardens soon identified the purple Nissan being driven by Dorner on Highway 38, about 20 miles away, according to the claim.
The Reynoldses support their argument with a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department news release, which says, in part, that after Karen Reynolds’ call, “deputies immediately began a search on ground and from the air for the vehicle (the purple Nissan). The vehicle was located at Highway 38 and Glass Road.”
In an interview, Hallam added, “When the mayor announced the reward offer, he just said, ‘captured.’ So, in terms of the $1 million reward, the offer did not include conviction.” In addition, state law allows a reward to be paid if an arrest or conviction is rendered impossible by the death of a suspect during a pursuit by law enforcement.
Heltebrake’s claim, filed on his behalf by attorney Allen Thomas, says that shortly after his client called, Dorner was cornered by authorities at the cabin where he died.
Heltebrake said in his claim that he was driving along a mountain road when Dorner jumped out of a snow bank and pointed a firearm at him.
He says Dorner ordered him out of the pickup and used it to continue fleeing.
Heltebrake’s call “notified law enforcement of Mr. Dorner’s location, provided a description of the vehicle he was fleeing in and was the substantial factor in the capture of Mr. Dorner at the cabin location,” according to his claim.