The last stand

Once the sheriff’s tactical tractor arrived, it was used to “port” openings into the cabin. Windows were torn out by the frames, and it was discovered that mattresses had been placed against the walls for cover. There had been no recent weapons fire coming from the cabin, but as the windows were torn out, Dorner set off green tactical smoke canisters inside the cabin.

From the safety of the tactical tractor, Ginter broadcast a message to the cabin, calling Dorner by name and urging him to come out. The cabin was surrounded, Ginter said over the loudspeaker, and if Dorner did not surrender, the SED would fire “hot” pyrotechnic gas into the cabin.

The SED decided to deploy the pyrotechnic canisters because none of the other gas had had any effect, Herbert said. It was clear from the ambush of officers earlier in the day that any attempt by the SWAT team to enter the cabin would be met by automatic gunfire, he said. The winter sun was waning in the deep canyon, and the danger to deputies would increase substantially after dark in the remote area. They had to force Dorner out.

No shots were fired by the deputies or from the cabin after the announcement. The SED team waited 20 more minutes, and then began deploying the pyrotechnic canisters about 4:10 p.m.

Three different types of pyrotechnic canisters were deployed at the cabin. All three are recommended by the manufacturer for outdoor use only because of their “fire-producing capability.” Six canisters were lobbed into the cabin and activated without causing any fires. However, one canister fell outside the cabin and caught fire, which began to burn up the wall of the wooden structure.

The only response from inside the cabin was the release of another green gas canister. The fire continued to spread along the walls of the cabin, but the roof and the main exit wall did not begin to burn for some time.

About 10 minutes after the fire started, officers heard a single loud gunshot from the cabin. Many remarked that it was the first shot they had heard that did not seem to involve a sound suppressor.

Not long after, the cabin became engulfed, and soon large amounts of ammunition could be heard exploding inside. Herbert said the ammunition explosions made it far too dangerous to allow fire department personnel near enough to begin putting out the fire.

The aftermath of the cabin fire.

The aftermath of the cabin fire.

Hours later, the fire was extinguished and investigators began sifting through the remains. A body was found in the small basement area – too burned to make a positive identification. However, investigators found identification that had been protected from the fire because it was under the body – a driver’s license and other ID for Christopher Dorner.

Burnt Dorner Cabin

The aftermath of the cabin fire.

Irvine Homicide Detective Vicky Hurtado brought the San Bernardino County Coroner the means to make the positive identification some days later. Her investigators had gone to Dorner’s mother’s home and during service of a search warrant found his dental retainers. The retainers fit the mouth of the body found in the cabin, and Dorner was officially pronounced dead on February 14.

Because of a bullet hole found in Dorner’s skull – and very little smoke in his lungs – the coroner determined that death came from a self-inflicted gunshot wound from a handgun.

Identification found in the cabin

Identification found in the cabin.

Most of the fired shell casings in the cabin were .223 caliber rifle casings. Investigators found an AR-15 rifle barrel in the burned cabin, and determined that it was the weapon used to kill Deputy MacKay and wound Deputy Collins. Further investigation showed that the bullets that killed Riverside Officer Crain were from the same semi-automatic weapon – as well as those in the attack on the LAPD officers in Corona.

Portions of a 9 mm Glock handgun were found near the body in the cabin, and a suppressor for the gun was found in another area. The coroner determined that this was likely the weapon used for the self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Irvine Police provided shell casings from their homicide to the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department to determine if they were from the same weapon recovered from the cabin where Dorner perished. Careful cleaning of shell casings and the portions of the Glock that were found at the cabin provided the final evidence needed to close the Irvine double-homicide: The same gun that Dorner used to take his own life was the one that was used to murder Keith Lawrence and Monica Quan.

In Memoriam

This document was compiled in memory of Monica Quan, USC Public Safety Officer Keith Lawrence, Riverside Police Officer Michael Crain, and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremiah MacKay.

Watch the video memorial for Monica Quan & Keith Lawrence

Read More

The events described in the proceeding pages describe one of the most challenging and complicated incidents ever encountered by the law enforcement agencies involved. The documents that follow summarize the lessons learned from this incident.

Foreword

The Police Foundation took on this project because it represents a sentinel event in American policing, an early warning of the need to consider changes in the public safety system, Foundation President Jim Bueermann believes. A review like this is critical to prepare for similar events.

Map the Event

Follow the event as it progresses throughout Southern California. Learn how the geographical extent of the incident influenced the law enforcement response.

Crisis Forces Disparate Agencies to Work Together

Police agencies and officers responding to the threats and attacks made by Christopher Dorner knew they were facing a nearly incomprehensible challenge – an attacker who knew police methods and protocol and who had declared war not only on officers but on their families. This challenge amplified the fundamental challenges caused by departments representing wide-ranging force sizes and civil environments handling a case that had many elements that were in direct conflict with each other.

Command and Control Issues

Command and Control are critical to a coordinated and collaborative response and resolution of complicated multi-jurisdictional incidents.  The police response to the attacks by Christopher Dorner provides an illuminating examination of the use of Command and Control in accomplishing several different missions across multiple jurisdictions and agencies.

Pervasive Communication Difficulties

Communication difficulties are nearly always listed in the “after action reports” of major, multi-agency events. Because of its fast-moving nature and regional scope, the response to the Dorner attacks particularly underscores the need for pre-planning in anticipation of predictable communication challenges.

Competing Interests

The law enforcement response to the Dorner case represents a complicated event that brings together the varying interests and objectives of the agencies involved.  In an ideal context, agencies can negotiate these interests and objectives before commencing operations, but this case required agencies to negotiate them as events unfolded. This circumstance created issues, at times disagreements, on how to proceed, which can inform agencies that face similar events in the future.

The Use of Social Media

A high media profile has been a fact of life for the Los Angeles Police Department for decades. The attacks by Christopher Dorner and his use of social media to make his case brought a new phase to the international attention given to police practices in Southern California.

Lessons Learned

The events of Feb. 2-12, 2013 were nearly unprecedented within the law enforcement community in Southern California. The regional nature and lethal mobility of the attacks by Christopher Dorner against police and their families, and the direct involvement of social media throughout the incident, brought home the fact that police departments must be able to adapt quickly and work flexibly with other agencies to deal with cases like this. The “lessons learned” through lengthy discussions with the agencies are collected here.

Contents

To continue reading the story click the arrow to the right. Other document resources can be accessed through the links below or by clicking the menu icon on the upper left of each page.

Table of Contents

Police Foundation Critical Incident Reviews

Navigating this Site

Letter from the Police Foundation

Police Under Attack – Christopher Dorner Incident Summary

Read the Story

Map the Story

Lessons Learned

About the Team

Copyright & privacy

Visit Police Foundation

Visit COPS

Text version of the report available for download

Read More

Letter from the Police Foundation

For nine days in early February 2013, like millions of Americans, I was glued to news reports of a former police and naval officer who was targeting police officers and their families. It was one of the most bizarre and violent acts of vengeance against law enforcement officers this country has experienced. By the time he was finally stopped, Christopher Dorner had murdered four people and wounded several others. His threats and actions put Southern California policing agencies in an unprecedented collective state of alert – one in which both excellent and heroic police work was done and some regrettable decisions were made.

This incident represents a sentinel event in American policing – one that serves as a warning of needed changes in parts of our public safety system. For the first time, a trained former police officer was hunting cops and their families, exploiting jurisdictional boundaries and using legally-acquired sophisticated, high-powered weaponry. And he did this in a highly public way that provided a template for others who may seek to terrorize this great country and target the people charged with protecting its citizens.

The challenges confronting the principal law enforcement agencies in this incident were immense. It took place over a wide expanse of Southern California where more than 20 million people live, work and play. It encompassed urban, suburban and mountainous geography. It was worked in balmy weather and a freezing blizzard. It required the coordination of thousands of hard-charging police officers, sheriff’s deputies, highway patrol officers and state and federal special agents. And they engaged the incident with different policies and practices, from differing organizational cultures and utilizing frequently incompatible communications systems.

At the core of the Police Foundation’s mission is the notion of “advancing policing.” This is accomplished through a variety of mechanisms, but central is the idea that new learning – and therefore advancements – can be acquired through examining policing-involved critical incidents. This is certainly true of this incident.

Reviews like this are intended to transform “lessons learned” to “lessons applied” in the hopes of enhancing the safety of officers and the public. In emphasizing this, we affix no blame to those who tried desperately to apprehend Dorner and save lives. To do so dishonors their sacrifices and diverts attention from increasing our understanding about protecting society and keeping cops safe.

Covering every aspect of this very complicated incident would result in a book-length document. To keep the project manageable, we focused on the most important “lessons learned” that can be generalized to a wide range of circumstances and jurisdictions. Accordingly, we have tried to accomplish three broad goals:

  • Present the facts and our recommendations in an objective manner that respects the professionalism, dedication and heroism of the law enforcement officers involved in this incident, and honors the sacrifice of those whose lives were lost by helping prevent the injury and death of other officers or civilians in the future;
  • Highlight this as a sentinel event in which we identify underlying weaknesses in the regional public safety system, preventable errors and recommendations for avoiding similar tragic outcomes; and,
  • • Use multi-media to provide an immersive experience to a wide breadth of readers that gives them a better understanding of the complicated nature of such events and how dangerous they are to the peace officers trying to stop highly motivated criminals.

Our examination of this incident begins with the murders of Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence in Irvine, CA and concludes with the murder of Deputy Jeremiah MacKay, the wounding of Deputy Alex Collins and Dorner’s suicide in the mountains of San Bernardino County. In our quest to tease out lessons which we can generalize across the nation, we did not examine every aspect of the incident. Our observations and recommendations are based on our understanding of both the many successes and the relatively few errors that occurred throughout the course of it. They are not intended for the sole use of the involved agencies, as they have each conducted their own internal reviews. Rather, they are aimed at improving American policing’s response to similar critical incidents through changes in policy, practice, organizational culture and an increased understanding of the nature of preventable error.

Several aspects of this incident distinguish it from other critical incidents:

  • While threats to police officers are a daily occurrence and an unfortunate reality of the job, never before have American law enforcement officers and their families been hunted like they were in this incident;
  • The scope and scale of the LAPD protective detail was unlike any American law enforcement has ever experienced. When the threats to their officers became known, the leadership of the LAPD was faced with rapidly standing up more than 70 separate, 24-hour/7-day a week protective details in an area encompassing more than 2,000 square miles. This necessitated the use of hundreds of its employees in many places outside its jurisdiction. In spite of this monumental task, once it became aware of the threat, the LAPD was able to effectively protect the people Dorner intended to harm;
  • The speed at which the incident unfolded, and the diverse and expansive geography in which it occurred, presented serious and unparalleled coordination and communications challenges to the multitude of agencies involved; and,
  • The search for Dorner carried out by the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department (SBSD) was unique and extremely challenging. The final phase of this incident took place in the San Bernardino National Forest – America’s most heavily populated national forest. It has thousands of homes and vacation cabins, many of which are frequently unoccupied and located on narrow, twisting roads. It has several ski resorts and other winter recreational venues that attract tens of thousands of visitors to the mountain daily. During the initial part of the search for Dorner a raging blizzard significantly complicated operations. In spite of these challenges, SBSD deputies were ultimately able to box the suspect into an area where his escape was futile and his violent rampage was stopped. And they did so while managing what were tantamount to three separate, simultaneous events – the search itself, the huge influx into the mountains of law enforcement personnel and the arrival of a virtual army of assertive media representatives.

As much as we seek the security of believing that policing activities are always smoothly carried out, the reality is that due to exigent and uncontrollable circumstances they are frequently spontaneous and confusing. When unparalleled critical incidents like this one occur, law enforcement personnel are required to act quickly to protect civilians and their fellow officers. And things usually end well. But events can unfold very, very fast and sometimes errors are made. This is akin to the much-documented “fog of war” where “things happen” and unintended consequences occur.

I spent more than 30 years as a police officer and police chief, so I have a personal frame of reference for the magnitude of what the involved departments confronted. And I am, quite literally, in awe of what they accomplished. I believe the law enforcement professionals involved in this incident overwhelmingly performed in an effective and heroic manner. Two of them, Officer Michael Crain and Deputy Jeremiah MacKay, made the ultimate sacrifice and will be remembered forever as the heroes they were.

I am grateful to San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, Los Angeles Chief of Police Charlie Beck, Riverside Chief of Police Sergio Diaz, Irvine Police Chief Dave Maggard, Corona Chief of Police Michael Abel and recently retired Torrance Chief of Police John Neu. None of these leaders were compelled to cooperate with us on this review. They did so willingly to help advance American policing and help keep cops and civilians safe. They truly represent some of the best in American policing leadership.

I want to acknowledge the dedicated professionalism of the many law enforcement personnel involved in this incident. In addition to the SBSD and the LAPD, I want to highlight the great work done by members of the Irvine, Corona, Riverside and National City Police Departments as well as their numerous local, state and federal partners. This incident is replete with examples too numerous to cite of cops, civilian employees and volunteers accomplishing great things in very difficult circumstances. Few people have had to overcome the kind of challenges they confronted. I am truly amazed by what they accomplished. And I am equally saddened by their losses.

I am also extremely grateful to the dozens of commanders, supervisors, detectives, officers and deputies who generously gave us their time. They answered all of our questions candidly, even though many of them were painful. I will be forever thankful for their willingness to relive their stress and heartbreaks through the re-telling of their experiences. It was only through their eyes that we were able to gain a true understanding of this complex incident.

I am thankful to ESRI, the world’s leader in geographic systems software, for the assistance its employees gave us in constructing the review’s story map – a first in critical incident reviews.

I would like to express my gratitude for the hard work of our review team: Chief Rick Braziel (ret.), Chief Barney Melekian (ret.), Sheriff Sue Rahr (ret.), Professor Jeff Rojek, Jim Specht and Dr. Travis Taniguchi worked tirelessly to present this review in a compelling and useful manner. I would also like to thank retired San Bernardino County Sheriff Rod Hoops for his invaluable assistance in conceptualizing the project.

Finally, this review is dedicated to the memory of Monica Quan, Keith Lawrence, Michael Crain and Jeremiah MacKay. May we remember them not for how they died, but for the way they lived. And may we honor them by diligently applying the lessons we have learned.

 

Chief Jim Bueermann (ret.)
President
Police Foundation

The response to an “attack on our own”

When a young couple sitting in their car was shot to death in the quiet upscale suburb of Irvine, CA in early February 2013, local police were jolted by a nearly unprecedented murder. It had all the earmarks of a gangland “hit” – and there was little evidence to determine who was behind the killing or what the motive might be.

Over the next ten days, the shocking whodunit facing Irvine police grew into a terrifying experience for all Southern California law enforcement personnel and their families, as online threats by a rogue former LAPD officer were followed by lightning bolt attacks that killed one officer and wounded three others in different cities within an hour. By the time Christopher Dorner was cornered and ultimately took his own life, he had shot another officer to death and had seriously wounded one more.

The police response and manhunt for Dorner became a two-week national event that involved thousands of officers across Southern California. It included many scenes of intense bravery and selflessness by the officers involved. Moreover, it was solved in a surprisingly short time by the combined professionalism and police expertise of departments ranging from San Bernardino County on the east to National City in San Diego County in the south.

Following the narrative of the incident from beginning to end reveals how quickly events moved. It was barely 12 hours from the discovery of the Facebook posting that convinced police Dorner was a prime suspect until the fatal attack on the Riverside Police Department officers. In that short time, the LAPD managed the herculean task of locating, assigning, and dispatching hundreds of officers to protect dozens of families throughout Southern California. Nothing similar had ever been done before, and the LAPD was universally praised for accomplishing it with minimal disruption to the department’s day-to-day responsibilities.

However, the review also revealed the problems still faced by policing a region of 10 counties and dozens of cities and towns, which are growing increasingly into one homogenous population of 22 million people. In some ways, Dorner was an anomaly – a well-armed attacker who knew police tactics. But police chiefs and county sheriffs involved in the incident agree that a small force of knowledgeable terrorists bent on creating havoc could easily replicate such attacks.

Everyone who lived through the attacks knows such things can happen again.

Each department has meticulously analyzed its own response. The chiefs and sheriffs involved believed it would be useful to have a unified report on the successes and challenges created by the interaction of so many law enforcement agencies.

With the strong support of San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, the Police Foundation assembled a team of law enforcement leaders to review the response from a regional perspective. The team spent hundreds of hours interviewing personnel, reviewing evidence, and visiting crime scenes to prepare a report that lays out the challenges faced and provides a foundation for the region’s police leaders to resolve them for future incidents.

This report attempts, for the first time, to give a regional view of the police response from their perspective, and outlines particular challenges that were revealed.

Among the key findings:

  • The LAPD, the nation’s third-largest police force, had to mobilize within a few hours on February 6, 2013 to protect dozens of threatened officers and their families – nearly all of whom lived outside the city limits. The challenges presented by this effort revealed that the Los Angeles Police Department has become a regional agency that has influence far beyond its jurisdictional boundaries.
  • Regional communication problems among police departments throughout Southern California – long a source of concern in both natural disaster and potential terrorist scenarios – posed a potential danger to both the public and officers in the ten days surrounding the manhunt for Dorner.
  • The need for a rapid and effective communication system within the Southern California Region was underscored when its absence left two officers following an extremely dangerous suspect with only cell phones to call in their location or status to local police.
  • Command and control problems led to hundreds of officers converging on the scene of an active shooting, most with no understanding of what their role would be or how to interact with the command structure at the scene. Other problems resulted from officers within the same department self-deploying in conflicting and potentially dangerous ways.
  • Many officers received their information from television and the Internet, leaving departments unable to keep up with the instantaneous availability of information.
  • Efforts to create a regional command center helped organize a nationwide manhunt and sort through thousands of tips. But varying levels of participation by agencies hindered the construction of a unified response.
  • The inevitable tension between investigators preparing evidence for a possible trial, and teams involved in an active manhunt, was amplified by the lack of early collaboration between departments. While top managers worked quickly to resolve these issues, gatekeepers at a variety of supervisory levels hampered the flow of information, concerns, and command decisions.
  • Dealing with the impact of external sources of “social media,” especially Facebook and online discussions, involved many hours of effort that was a distraction and in many cases caused delays or misrepresentations that hindered how police viewed the case and how it could be resolved.

Overwhelmingly, the Police Foundation team found that the officers and deputies involved in the response to the Dorner incident felt that they were under attack. They were even more concerned about threats against their families – to the extent that many who were not even directly involved took pains to “clear” their own residences before they allowed their family members inside. They were frustrated and angered by some media reports and Internet campaigns that portray Dorner as a victim and a vigilante trying to right a wrong. Police point out that Dorner killed two unknowing victims with chilling ruthlessness, and killed two police officers in ambushes.

While the attacks were portrayed as only being directed toward police, the disruption they caused put an entire region at risk. Many have pointed out similarities in these events to those of the Beltway Sniper incidents around Washington, D.C., in which mystery shooters killed 10 people over three weeks in 2002, leaving the entire region in turmoil.

Law enforcement leaders know that it is vital to prepare for the possible repeat of these kinds of regional attacks by a terrorist group whose goal may be to distract law enforcement from its real objectives.

It is hoped that the findings in this report will provide a starting point for those discussions and planning efforts.

The murder of Monica Quan & Keith Lawrence

It was the kind of killing almost never seen in one of the safest cities in America – a young couple shot at close range while they sat in their still-running car in a parking garage in the midst of hundreds of condominiums. The only evidence consisted of 9-mm shell casings and a small beanie cap. Not a single neighbor had heard or seen a thing.

Irvine, California is a quiet city of 235,000 residents, an upscale Orange County suburb that many consider the epitome of a planned community. The police department may see two or three murders a year, nearly always the result of a domestic dispute that is quickly resolved.

Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence

Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence
Click to watch the ESPN video tribute.

The big news on Feb. 3, 2013, was expected to be that the Baltimore Ravens had defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. However, that was soon to change for the Irvine Police Department.

The call came in about 9 p.m.: Two people were found shot to death in their vehicle on the top floor of a gated condominium-parking garage near the University of California, Irvine campus. When police arrived, it was obvious that this was not a simple crime of passion said Sgt. Bill Bingham of the Irvine Detective Bureau.

The car’s engine was still running with headlights on, and a man and woman were slumped in their seats. Fourteen shell casings were found around the car, and it was clear that the shooting was not a murder-suicide or a robbery. The woman’s engagement ring was still on her hand. It looked more like a hit job – the kind of cold-blooded killing that never happens in Irvine.

Looking for clues to the victim’s identity, detectives noticed the car had a University of Southern California parking sticker. They called in the sticker number to USC, and were told it belonged to one of the University’s Public Safety Officers – Keith Lawrence. The description they received appeared to fit the murdered driver.

Irvine Police Chief David Maggard called in his entire investigative team. The first 48 hours were the most critical in solving these violent crimes, and he put the resources of the whole department on the case.

Keith Lawrence and Monica Quan

Keith Lawrence and Monica Quan

Few details were released to the media, but the crime was so unusual that it made the evening news throughout Southern California. Among those watching the broadcasts was Randal Quan, a retired captain from the Los Angeles Police Department. The location of the murders and the description of the victims filled him with dread: He knew his daughter Monica and her fiancée Keith Lawrence had driven home to Irvine after spending the day with Lawrence’s family. Monica always called him when she was home safe – and he had been unable to reach her all evening.

Quan called Irvine Police with his fears and a description of the clothes Monica and Keith had been wearing. They were identified as the murdered couple. Knowing who they were just deepened the mystery of how this could have happened, Maggard said.

Monica Quan, 28, and Keith Lawrence, 27, had become sweethearts at Concordia University in Irvine. They starred on the school’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, and remained devoted to their sport. Quan had recently become an assistant women’s basketball coach at California State University, Fullerton. Lawrence had trained at the Ventura County Sheriff’s Academy and had worked for the Oxnard, CA, Police Department before joining the USC Department of Public Safety. Their memorial service at Concordia drew crowds and included four hours of tributes from family and friends.

How such a highly regarded young couple could be murdered in a gang-style hit was one of many mysteries surrounding the case confronting the Irvine investigators. Maggard said he was frustrated that none of the nearby neighbors seemed to have heard the 14 shots from a high-powered pistol in the echoing parking garage. Only later would they learn that Dorner used a suppressor on his murder weapon. The only clue, other than the shells, appeared to be a dark green beanie-style cap found near the car.

Dorner a suspect

It was a “real whodunit,” Maggard said, causing Irvine detectives to go “24-7” in an effort to find some clues to the mystery. Detective Vicky Hurtado said investigators were still looking at nearly everyone as a possible suspect when the department received a bolt out of the blue thanks to the diligence of a police officer nearly 100 miles south in National City, near the Mexican border.

Early Monday, Feb. 4, National City Police Officer Paul Hernandez was handed his own mystery. Workers at an auto repair shop across the street from police headquarters discovered a wealth of odd items in trash dumpsters behind the store: a bulletproof helmet, body armor, a military-style belt strap, bullets and parts of a police uniform that Hernandez identified as LAPD from its buttons. The uniform still had a nameplate inscribed “Dorner.”

Dorner-surveillance-video-National-City-CNN_1360451819871_370978_ver1.0_320_240

An LAPD uniform, ammunition clips and other police paraphernalia was discovered in dumpsters near the National City, CA Police Department headquarters. A surveillance camera showed a man later identified as Dorner dumping the items. Watch the surveillance footage of evidence dumped by Dorner

Hernandez wondered if the items might have been stolen from an officer – “I’d sure want to get them back if they were mine.” Hernandez also found a small notebook with the name and serial number of LAPD Officer Teresa Evans in the shirt’s pocket. The LAPD was called and they said there was no officer at the department named Dorner. However, they did have a Sgt. Evans, and would leave her a message.

Before Hernandez finished booking the property, Evans called him – she knew the name Dorner all too well. In 2007, she had been partnered with Officer Christopher Dorner as his training officer. The partnership had ended in a prolonged dispute when Dorner accused her of kicking a suspect during an altercation. A disciplinary review hearing had cleared Evans and convinced LAPD officials that Dorner had lied because he was about to receive a negative review. A Board of Rights hearing had found Dorner guilty of lying, and he was fired by the LAPD in 2009. He appealed to the Superior Court and the State Court of Appeals over the next two years, but the firing was upheld in both courts.

The discovery of Dorner’s abandoned uniform and other items nagged at Evans – she had always been fearful that he might try to seek revenge. When she went to work for her night shift, that concern became a chilling fear when she learned about the murders of retired Capt. Randy Quan’s daughter and future son-in-law. She knew that Quan was a lawyer and had served as a defense representative for a number of LAPD officers facing Board of Rights hearings. He had represented Dorner in those hearings several years before. The connection between Dorner and Quan led her to call the Irvine Police Department watch commander the night of Feb. 5.

Irvine detective Sgt. Bill Bingham had gone home to get a little sleep after working on the double-homicide for 30 hours but when he got the call from the watch commander about Evans’ tip, he called back right away. Evans told him about the connection between Dorner and Quan and the Board of Rights hearing.

Irvine PD investigators drove down to National City early on Wednesday, Feb. 6, and spoke with National City Police Department investigators about the items recovered from the dumpster. Upon their arrival in National City, Dorner was merely a person of interest to Irvine Police. Within hours that would change. The National City Police, in response, would reach out to their contacts in Mexico and the United States Navy in attempts to locate Dorner.

The investigators found that the auto repair shop had a surveillance camera and checked the tape. It revealed a large African-American man methodically dumping the police equipment into the dumpsters from his dark-colored Nissan Titan pickup truck. He matched Evan’s description of Dorner. Some of the ammunition in the dumpster was similar to the shells found at the Irvine crime scene.

Lead Irvine investigator Vicky Hurtado, and most of the Irvine police personnel, had been up 24 hours or more, running down possible leads about criminals who might have known Lawrence during his police training and those who had dated Lawrence and Quan. Officers had handed out cards asking for information to drivers along Scholarship Drive where the garage was located.

Now there was a new lead. Like many departments, Irvine has detectives whose job includes tracking down information on suspects on social media like Facebook and other areas of the Internet. By 1:59 p.m. Feb. 6, an Internet search had turned up a document on Dorner’s Facebook page labeled “From: Christopher Dorner; To: America; Subj: Last Resort.”

The document, which became known as Dorner’s manifesto, claimed that the investigation into the kicking incident and the Board of Rights hearing had been unjust and stacked against him. He made unequivocal threats toward Quan, Evans and all of the other officers involved with his firing. It laid out grievances against some Black, Hispanic, and Asian commanders and called them “high value targets.” Dorner promised to use intelligence tactics to discover the schools of the LAPD officers’ children and the workplaces of their spouses. “I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, I’m terminating yours. Quan, Anderson, Evans and BOR members Look your wives/husbands and surviving children directly in the face and tell them the truth as to why your children are dead.”

Read the manifesto

To Irvine investigators, the document appeared to be a written confession that Dorner had killed Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence. It was also clearly a continuing threat to the other LAPD officers who were named. Maggard had his officers call Teresa Evans and Randal Quan right away, and alerted LAPD. Here was a suspect who had previously been one of their own – he knew their tactics and presented a dangerous challenge. Dorner showed that he knew how to avoid detection and may have laid a false trail in San Diego.

The double homicide in quiet Irvine quickly became a regional Southern California incident, and soon would become national news. The Irvine Police Department headquarters was transformed over the next two hours into an Emergency Operations Center hosting LAPD officers, U.S. Marshal’s Office investigators, and the FBI. The LAPD offered whatever support it could, and Maggard was glad to have the backup. The whodunit had turned into an urgent manhunt.

As the EOC began humming with activity, the first official announcement of the search for Dorner was distributed regionally in the form of a law enforcement wanted bulletin. Aided by the sophisticated fugitive tracking capabilities of the U.S. Marshal’s Service, Irvine investigators found and interviewed Dorner’s mother and sister, as well as others who had known him. Investigators found that Dorner had a house in Las Vegas, and had spent a lot of time at shooting ranges in the area. He had bought and sold dozens of weapons, and he had 70 currently registered in his name. Among them were a number of .223 caliber semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 and numerous 9 mm Glock handguns – the type Irvine investigators determined was used in the murder of Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence.

In his online rant, Dorner claimed to have a .50 caliber Barrett sniper rifle and that he had purchased noise suppressors for his weapons using a National Firearms Act Trust in Nevada, where they are legal. Maggard determined that the “manifesto” was a dangerous document and important to the investigation, so he assigned an officer to convince Facebook to pull it from public view. Irvine Deputy Chief Mike Hamel and Public Information Officer Lt. Julia Engen had just returned from a conference on social media, and they found an immediate use for the contacts they had developed there.

“We spent an hour trying to take (the Facebook post) down – we wanted to avoid the kind of hysteria that played out when the ‘manifesto’ became public. They were cooperative and worked with us on it – but it turned out to be too late.”

– Irvine Police Chief Dave Maggard

At 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6 – just 8 hours after investigators had seen Christopher Dorner on the National City video feed – the Irvine Police Department called a press conference to declare Dorner a suspect in the murders of Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence. One of the first reporters to approach Chief Maggard for an interview already had Dorner’s online rant on an electronic tablet. The story was out: A former LAPD officer had declared war on the department, and was accused of murdering the daughter of a former LAPD captain and her fiancé, a Peace Officer with the University of Southern California.

Chief Dave Maggard Press Conference

Irvine Police Chief Dave Maggard held a press conference on Feb. 6, 2013 to announce that Dorner was a primary suspect in the homicides.

Mobilization of the LAPD

The Los Angeles Police Department has more than 10,000 sworn officers and patrols 473 square miles. Its detectives deal with 300 homicides each year, and have developed some of the most sophisticated crime-solving methods in the nation. The LAPD is considered one of the most progressive forces in the nation.

So top officials in the department were mystified that a probationary officer who had been fired nearly four years earlier had suddenly begun lethal attacks on the families of LAPD officers. Very little had been heard from Dorner since his February 2009 firing and subsequent efforts to overturn the firing in court. However, the evidence seemed clear from the Irvine slayings and the posting of the “manifesto” – Dorner was an extremely serious threat to LAPD officers and their families.

Capt. William Hayes, who heads the LAPD’s Robbery and Homicide Division, was given the assignment to quickly assess exactly who in the department was at risk, and what level of risk each person faced. No crime had been committed in the LAPD jurisdiction, so the department’s response bore similarities to preparing for a terrorist threat

Southern California

The LAPD assigned protective details to 77 locations – some more than 100 miles apart – across the Southern California region.

Investigators combed through Dorner’s online document and developed a list of who might be at risk. Hayes said the department called in a team of experts to assess the level of threat – including behavioral scientists, FBI analysts, and department psychologists. The resulting list eventually grew to 77 protected locations, which were scattered across the entire Southern California region.

Some of Dorner’s targets were obvious and got immediate protection. The Long Beach Police Department agreed to watch over Sgt. Teresa Evans’ home. They sent a SWAT team and eventually relocated her and her family. Members of the Board of Review who were named in the Dorner rant were scattered from Irvine in Orange County, to Torrance in the southwest portion of Los Angeles County, to Corona in western Riverside County. Local departments sent officers to watch the homes and families, waiting for what the LAPD would decide to do next.

Hayes said the department felt that it could not impose on smaller police agencies to protect its officers and their families around the clock. Within hours, the Office of Operations reassigned officers from throughout the force, eventually putting together a protective detail of hundreds of officers – the operation became so large it required activation of the department’s operations center with around-the-clock dedicated staff. The officers were warned about Dorner’s arsenal and his threats to shoot police on sight, and began to deploy late on Wednesday, Feb. 6 to schools and homes throughout Southern California. They began their protection duty at about the time Irvine police were holding their press conference. The urgency of the assignment meant there was little time for training, and arrangements for communications were rushed.

A tragedy in Riverside

Television viewers around Southern California became aware of Dorner at 8 p.m. when Chief Maggard’s press conference was broadcast live and local stations focused on the “manifesto” and his threats to the LAPD. He was called a decorated naval veteran and a skilled marksman. Reporters speculated that Dorner could be anywhere from Ventura County to San Diego County, where the discarded items and video had been found.

Southwestern Yacht Club

Southwestern Yacht Club

Investigators learned late that evening that Dorner was indeed still in San Diego. At about 10 p.m., he had tied up an 81-year-old man at the Southwestern Yacht Club in San Diego Bay and tried to hijack his boat to Mexico. He got one of the lines caught in the propeller and stalled the engine. Once he had left, the boat owner was able to attract attention by yelling.

A crew of investigators, including Detective Hurtado and three FBI Agents, drove down from the Irvine EOC to investigate the incident, and San Diego County police agencies staked out hotels and other promising locations. They converged on one hotel lobby with sirens blaring, but it was a false alarm. Dorner had stayed two nights at the Navy Inn at Naval Station Point Loma, near the San Diego International Airport but did not return. Law enforcement officials had no real idea of Dorner’s whereabouts. That would soon change dramatically.

Tow truck driver Lee McDaniel explains how he spotted Christopher Dorner at a Corona rest stop and pointed him out to LAPD officers. Chris Ercoli, The Press-Enterprise.

Tow truck driver Lee McDaniel explains how he spotted Christopher Dorner at a Corona rest stop and pointed him out to LAPD officers. Chris Ercoli, The Press-Enterprise.

Tow-truck driver R. Lee McDaniel was out on his job that night and had stopped about 1 a.m. at a minimarket and gas station at the Weirick Road exit off Interstate 15 near Corona. The interstate is an interior artery north from San Diego County, and eventually becomes the route Southern Californians drive to Las Vegas.

McDaniel had seen some of the reports about Dorner and was startled to see a dark gray Nissan pickup drive into the station and a man matching Dorner’s description get out. McDaniel had access to state motor vehicle records and checked the license plate, which came up negative. But he remained convinced that it was the right man as Dorner pulled out of the station and headed away from the freeway onramp.

Moments later, LAPD officers Cesar Chavez and Mario Vega pulled into the gas station. They planned to pick up coffee and snacks to tide them over during a shift protecting one of Dorner’s targets who lived in Corona. McDaniel ran to the patrol car and told them he was convinced Dorner had just left. As they were talking, the gray Nissan pickup drove past again, pulling onto the freeway this time.

Investigators look at LAPD patrol unit that was allegedly ambushed and shot up by Christopher Dorner. Stan Lim, The Press-Enterprise.

Investigators look at LAPD patrol unit that was allegedly ambushed and shot up by Christopher Dorner.
Stan Lim, The Press-Enterprise.

Chavez and Vega pulled out, and the pickup sped away. Because they were out of radio range, one officer grabbed his cell phone to report in, but the phone fell and became unworkable. About five miles up the freeway, the Nissan pulled off the interstate at the Magnolia Avenue exit. As the patrol car sped down the long off-ramp, the windshield exploded and shots began slamming into the car. Investigators later determined that Dorner had pulled off the road and began shooting at the patrol car as soon as it came around a bend. Shells found at the scene and witness statements showed he shot an AR-15 at the officers 29 times – using a noise suppressor to keep them from hearing the shots before they were hit. One bullet grazed an officer’s head, but fortunately, neither officer was seriously injured.

The shooter jumped into his truck and drove away as the officers were left with a now disabled patrol car. Still without radio contact, they flagged down a civilian and used another cell phone to call 911 at 1:23 a.m. and report the incident to the California Highway Patrol. By 1:27 a.m., Corona Police Department officers arrived and an ambulance had been called for the wounded LAPD officer. Taking a report, officers at the scene determined that Dorner had changed the plates on his truck to avoid detection.

At 1:31 a.m., a “be on the lookout” (BOLO) advisory was sent to law enforcement agencies, warning that Dorner had been seen in the area and had attacked two LAPD officers without warning.

The Riverside Police Department, just north of the Corona shooting scene, had been on alert since the Irvine Police Department wanted bulletin had gone out at 3:40 p.m. on Feb 6th. Detective Jim Lopez had a long career at the LAPD before coming to Riverside. Chief Sergio Diaz had been an LAPD Deputy Chief. Deputy Chief Jeffrey Greer had also had an extensive LAPD career before coming to Riverside.

Lopez started to look into Dorner after he received the Irvine Police arrest bulletin to see if Chief Diaz or Deputy Chief Greer would need special protection. He had read the “manifesto” and became alarmed enough to send out special alerts to area police departments, warning that Dorner could be especially dangerous to officers based on his writings and because of his weapons.

But the Riverside Police Department was under attack before officers even knew Dorner was there. As the dispatcher began broadcasting the urgent alert from the Corona incident, she was interrupted by a frantic call of “officer down.” Soon, Lopez, Diaz and the RPD command staff would be facing a tragedy in their own ranks.

At 1:33 a.m. Feb. 7, Officers Michael Crain and Andrew Tachias pulled up to a red light at the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and Arlington Avenue, following their regular patrol route.

The major intersection was still somewhat busy even at that late hour. A car was stopped in the next lane, and two vehicles were waiting across Arlington for the light to change.

As the patrol car came to a stop, a dark pickup with a rack pulled through the light and headed across the intersection. Before the officers could react, the pickup came even, and shots began hitting the patrol car with no warning or indication of where they originated. Both officers were hit numerous times by semi-automatic weapon fire. Thirteen shots were fired, 11 hitting the patrol car.

Officers and deputies from around the area protected the scene where a Riverside police officer was killed and another seriously wounded. Kurt Miller, The Press-Enterprise.

Officers and deputies from around the area protected the scene where a Riverside police officer was killed and another seriously wounded.
Kurt Miller, The Press-Enterprise.

Crain slumped forward, and Tachias found himself unable to control the car, which began creeping across the intersection even as the BOLO on Dorner was being broadcast. In some of the most striking acts of heroism that traumatic night, witness Jack Chilson followed the gray pickup to try to help officers locate it. He followed it a few miles to Central Avenue, and then lost it on the dark streets.

Police investigate Riverside Police Department unit in which an officer was killed and another seriously wounded by Christopher Dorner. Kurt Miller, The Press-Enterprise.

Police investigate Riverside Police Department unit in which an officer was killed and another seriously wounded by Christopher Dorner.
Kurt Miller, The Press-Enterprise.

The driver across the intersection was cabbie Karam Kaoud, who jumped out of his car and helped stop the creeping patrol car. Unable to lift his arms, Tachias asked Kaoud to hold the radio microphone for him and key the broadcast button. His voice was soon heard calling out “officer down,” interrupting the BOLO that was being given out for Dorner’s truck.

Violence and tragedy had struck with such speed and seeming randomness, Riverside officers were left with a crime that appeared like a lightning bolt. The ferocity of the attack left the Riverside force and others from Corona, Irvine, and LAPD who soon joined them, on high alert. Rumors swirled that Dorner may be on his way back to shoot those who were responding to the shooting. Officers and deputies from throughout the area converged to set up a defensive perimeter.

MichaelCrain

Officer Michael Crain

Crain died at the scene from his gunshot wounds. Tachias still faces a long recovery. The RPD was in mourning and on edge. When the investigators from Irvine arrived, Diaz said they were welcomed with relief. A new command center was established in Riverside and police were put on high alert throughout Southern California.

The sudden and intense violence suffered by the LAPD officers in Corona and the Riverside officers pushed the manhunt to the top of the news. It seemed that Dorner could strike anywhere, and gave officers no warning when he attacked. This was no longer just an Irvine double homicide and threats to LAPD officials. It was now clear that any police officer could be at risk simply driving on patrol.

From southern Orange County to far northern Los Angeles County, police departments began reassessing how they should handle the dozens of locations where LAPD officers were stationed to protect those who had been threatened in Dorner’s online rant. What earlier had seemed an LAPD problem now appeared much more ominous in the wake of the sudden and indiscriminate attack on Crain and Tachias.

Tension turns to mistakes

Reports to police were creating a rumor mill of sightings of the gray pickup at locations hundreds of miles apart – but still accessible from the Riverside attack via the network of Los Angeles freeways.

City of Torrance

The City of Torrance is southwest of Los Angeles and 60 miles west of downtown Riverside.

In the beach suburb of Torrance, just south of the Los Angeles International Airport, officers on the graveyard shift were aware of the potential for violence. They had been notified that one of the Board of Rights panel members who had determined that Dorner had lied lived near downtown. Torrance Chief John Neu dispatched his own officers to protect the home as soon as he was notified. But the LAPD had sent officers to relieve them and provide a protection detail; Torrance officers returned to their regular patrols during the day.

Following the Riverside attack, possible Dorner sightings had ratcheted up the tension for both the LAPD detail and the Torrance patrol officers. A motorist called in to report that she had seen a gray truck with a similar license plate driving south from the airport on Sepulveda Boulevard – the main artery through downtown Torrance.

After watching news reports about the Riverside attack at the beginning of their shift, Torrance officers on the graveyard shift decided to assist with surveillance around the LAPD protection detail on Redbeam Avenue. They quietly parked at the end of the next street to the north of the home, and set up a checkpoint.

A little later, Torrance officers driving another patrol car had a similar idea. They set up surveillance in a parking lot along Beryl Avenue, one of the entry points into the neighborhood where they could see vehicles approaching the area from Sepulveda Boulevard.

Neither patrol pair checked with the LAPD officers and neither called in to report their impromptu surveillance detail. In fact, neither communicated with the other and both were unaware of the other’s presence.

Meanwhile, the LAPD officers on the protection detail were hearing the same reports. They maintained a high level of alert, intensely aware that two sets of police officers had been attacked without warning that night.

At about 4:30 a.m. that morning, it appeared that their fears might be realized. Down the block from the home they were protecting, the LAPD officers saw a dark pickup truck turn the corner with its lights off. The pickup moved slowly from one side of the street to the other, as if seeking a particular address.

As the pickup neared, an officer believed they were under attack by Dorner, and the officers opened fire on the pickup. As many as 100 shots were fired, riddling the vehicle. Officers soon discovered that they had made what LAPD Chief Charlie Beck would later call a tragic mistake: The pickup was driven by two women who were delivering Los Angeles Times newspapers along a route they followed every day.

Hernandez and Carranza

Emma Hernandez and Margie Carranza were shot at by officers while delivering newspapers in the early morning hours of Feb. 7. AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Miraculously, although the windows and doors of the pickup had numerous bullet holes, the two women survived the shooting onslaught. Seventy-one-year-old Emma Hernandez received bullet wounds to her back, but did not suffer life-threatening injury. Her 42-year-old daughter, Margie Carranza was cut by flying glass in her face, but also avoided serious injury.

The LAPD swarmed the site with investigators. The eight officers involved in the shooting were placed on desk duty, and the two women received an apology and a new pickup from the LAPD. Eventually, the LA City Attorney’s Office settled with the women for $4.2 million, ending the fallout from the attack.

After a yearlong review, the LA Police Commission and Chief Charlie Beck determined that the officers involved had violated the department’s policy on deadly force. They will be assigned to retraining, Beck said.

Even as the LAPD officers were discovering that they had mistaken two female newspaper carriers for Dorner, the nearby Torrance officers were dealing with their own involvement in the morning’s events.

Not long before the newspaper carriers’ truck turned onto the street where the LAPD protective detail waited, the first Torrance officers who had set up their supporting surveillance had their own encounter with a dark pickup. They recognized it was a Honda rather than a Nissan, and waved the driver over. David Purdue was on an early-morning mission to pick up a friend and go surfing. The officers told him he could not enter the neighborhood and sent him back the other way.

As Purdue was driving away, a fusillade of shots was heard from the street where the LAPD protective detail was stationed. The officers ran to their car and opened the trunk to access their rifles. They jumped on the radio and called out “shots fired, shots fired!”

Torrance resident David Perdue

Torrance resident David Perdue’s truck was rammed and he was shot at when police mistook him as a threat. LA Times Photo/Genaro Molina

Stationed just a block away but still not in contact with their fellow Torrance officers, the second Torrance patrol unit roared onto the street to provide backup. As they turned the corner, they saw Purdue driving away and the other patrol unit with doors open and no officers in sight. The officer driving reacted instantly – ramming the pickup truck with enough force to break its rear axle free. Unable to get out of his own car and still hearing shots, one of the officers fired into the cab of Purdue’s pickup, smashing the windshield.

Horrified to discover that the pickup driver was not Dorner, the officers pulled Purdue from the truck and moved him to a position of safety, Neu said. He was offered a ride to the emergency room in an ambulance, but refused, Neu said. Purdue’s recollection differs- in a federal civil rights suit filed over the summer, he said he had been forced to lay on the ground as a suspect for more than an hour, and is suffering physically and emotionally from the incident.

The Los Angeles District Attorney eventually ruled that the Torrance officers were justified in their actions based on the circumstances.

The two shootings of innocent drivers by police threatened to jump to the top of the news, creating confusion and suspicion in the minds of many people watching the early morning news reports that Thursday. The critics quickly took to the Internet in the wake of the Torrance incidents, accusing the LAPD of unjustly firing Dorner and of being more concerned with protecting their own than with keeping the public safe.

The media furor threatened to overshadow the fact that a Riverside police officer had been killed and his partner seriously wounded while sitting unaware at a traffic light. Police from Riverside to Torrance to Irvine were frustrated and saddened that anyone would take up the cause of a ruthless killer willing to shoot any officer on sight.

Torrance Chief Neu believed the shootings were a crisis that needed to be resolved immediately. He went door-to-door in the neighborhood to explain to homeowners how the mistake had occurred and to assure them that all damage would be repaired. Adjusters from the LAPD followed in his wake to take care of claims.

The search moves to Big Bear

As the media focused on the mistaken identity shootings in Torrance and began looking into Dorner’s background, the focus of the manhunt was about to move 100 miles away and nearly 7,000 feet higher in the towering San Bernardino Mountains.

Like all other Southern California law enforcement, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department had been on high alert since the reports came in about the shooting of Riverside officers Michael Crain and Andrew Tachias. The department had sent deputies to Riverside to help support the police in controlling the situation and provided a protective detail as reports swirled about the possibility of Dorner returning to the scene for more shooting.

Investigators examine Dorner's burned out truck

Investigators examine Dorner’s burned out truck.
LA Times Photo/ Michael Robinson Chavez

Many of the freeways and surface streets leading away from the Riverside shooting scene ran directly into San Bernardino County, which is just to the north. The main route from Riverside to Las Vegas (where officers had already been searching Dorner’s home) ran for hundreds of miles through San Bernardino County. The department knew there was a good chance that Dorner had passed through the county after the shooting, Sheriff John McMahon said.

As the search around Southern California intensified, a report came in about 8:30 a.m. Feb. 7 to the sheriff’s substation at Big Bear Lake, high in the San Bernardino Mountains: A maintenance crew had discovered a burning vehicle along one of the unpaved roads that ran behind the area’s ski resorts. The vehicle appeared to be a pickup.

Captain Tom Bradford, the commanding officer at the Big Bear substation, drove to the scene immediately and found evidence that made him call in the department’s SWAT teams. Scattered near the pickup, which was still smoldering, were numerous shells for a high-powered weapon. Bradford said he was immediately convinced this was Dorner’s truck.

Dorner's truck was located atop a ridge in the San Bernardino National Forest

Dorner’s truck was located atop a ridge in the San Bernardino National Forest (A). The search was hampered by difficult mountain terrain.

The location of the smoldering truck was a problem. It was high on a ridge that allowed quick access to the ski resorts, where operations were in full swing. Although it had not snowed recently, the resorts make their own snow all winter and had a special event planned for that Thursday: police and firefighter appreciation day. Thousands of officers from throughout Southern California were already headed to the slopes for the day.

On the other side of the ridge, the slope led away from the Big Bear area down to lower cabins along State Route 38, a popular area that was miles away from the ski resorts by road, but a straight hike down from the ridge. Even before the truck was positively identified as Dorner’s, Bradford had search teams out in both directions.

The SWAT team members were taking no chances. They felt the location was too exposed, and had the truck towed to a safer site before digging into it for evidence. What they found made it clear – the “hidden VIN” showed the vehicle was definitely Dorner’s. By mid-morning on Feb. 7, the manhunt had moved to a new location, and both the media and the agencies trying to stop him were headed from sunny beach communities to winter weather as cold and unforgiving as North Dakota’s.

Deputies fanned out to search Big Bear neighborhoods after finding Christopher Dorner’s burned out truck nearby. Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise.

Deputies fanned out to search Big Bear neighborhoods after finding Christopher Dorner’s burned out truck nearby.
Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise.

Knowing that Dorner could be anywhere, Bradford said the most pressing need was to bring the “police and firefighter appreciation day” at the ski resort to an early close. The skiers’ vehicles were checked – along with every other one leaving the mountains that day – to ensure that Dorner was not making an escape. The three main routes out of the resort were even closed for a time, but the roadblocks were deemed impractical with tens of thousands of people coming and going to the resorts.

Deputies search for Dorner

Deputies searched for Dorner in the harsh terrain and weather.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

 

 

 

 

Just two hours from the beach, the San Bernardino Mountains are topped with hundreds of square miles of national forest land. The San Bernardino National Forest is the most populated in the nation, home to thousands of dwellings, from small-unheated cabins to luxury resort condominiums. The buildings crowd into the forest, some as dense as a good-sized town, others scattered miles into the trees.

McMahon, Bradford and the sheriff’s department knew the only way to ensure that Dorner was not hiding in one of those cabins was to check them all. As the day progressed, they mounted a search operation that involved hundreds of county personnel, including probation officers and others as support. The searchers, sent out in teams, faced a daunting task. Most of the cabins were unoccupied in winter, and many were in areas that had no radio or cell phone reception. Before they checked the doors and windows of each dwelling, deputies had to find a spot nearby with reception, and sometimes used a team of searchers to pass along the word if the cabin was safe or not.

“We had to have someone in a spot where they could get the word out in a hurry. We knew that it was likely if we opened the door and he was there, we might not survive it.” – San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy

Every cabin and condominium was checked, Bradford said. If the doors were locked and there was no sign of forced entry, the search teams moved on. “We weren’t going to break down every door.”

As the teams fanned out across the mountains, the media descended on the resort. In an effort to maintain some control, McMahon used the Bear Mountain Golf Course clubhouse adjacent to the ski resort. A command post was established, and McMahon and other police officials held a series of press conferences in the parking lot.

The search continued into the night of Feb. 7 and the next morning, when the weather changed dramatically. A winter storm dropped several feet of snow along the mountain communities on Feb. 8, and the temperatures plummeted. Searchers were convinced that if Dorner had not found shelter, he would soon die of exposure. His body might not be found until the spring thaw.

Nevertheless, searchers carried on. Snow-cats were used to take searchers to remote cabins that had not been reached. Crews dressed in full winter gear traipsed through drifts to ensure there was no sign of habitation. Cabins and condominiums near the resorts were checked a second time.

Through the two days, there was only one reported sighting of Dorner. A resident said she was heading to the grocery store early Thursday morning, when she turned and saw a man matching Dorner’s description walking down her street. He noticed her, and turned and walked back into the forest. The resident was so frightened that she returned to her home and locked herself in. She did not report the sighting to deputies until they knocked on her door during the search hours later. By then, snow had covered whatever tracks might have shown where the man had gone into the forest.

Deputies continued search for Christopher Dorner during raging snowstorm in Big Bear. Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise.

Deputies continued search for Christopher Dorner during raging snowstorm in Big Bear. Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise.

The police command center in Big Bear during hunt for Christopher Dorner. Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise.

The police command center in Big Bear during hunt for Christopher Dorner. Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise.

The Trail goes Cold

Just three days after the discovery of Dorner’s online rant, and two days after his brutal attacks on officers in Corona and Riverside, the trail had gone cold in the snow-covered mountain communities. McMahon decided to relocate the command post to the Big Bear Lake Substation and gear down the operation, hoping that if the fugitive was still in the Big Bear area, he would try to make his escape and be caught.

Law enforcement teams face harsh weather conditions

Law enforcement teams faced harsh weather conditions as they continued the search in the snowstorm. LA Times Photo/Micheal Robinson Chavez

What had begun as a double homicide in a quiet suburb had become a national manhunt. Reports came in of Dorner sightings from Mexico, Las Vegas, Arizona, and Utah. Police officers throughout Southern California were on high alert.

With multiple locations now involved in the search, it became clear that the command center in Irvine might not meet the needs of an ever-expanding incident. Investigators from a half-dozen police agencies needed a place to coordinate their efforts and deal with the growing deluge of clues and sightings coming in. Irvine, Corona, and Riverside had crimes to investigate, and the LAPD was under a state of siege. San Bernardino County appeared to be the last known whereabouts of the killer, but there was no clear evidence he was still there.

Assistant LAPD Chief Michel Moore had been closely involved with the case since it became clear that Dorner’s attacks were focused on the people he blamed for his firing. Moore had spent a considerable amount of time at the Irvine command center, and he had talked directly with Riverside Chief Diaz and San Bernardino County Sheriff McMahon. Although the LAPD was not investigating a homicide, it had the most at stake in terms of an ongoing potential death threats against at least 77 identified likely targets and their families. The department was faced with what could only be called a terrorist threat.

Moore convinced Irvine Chief Maggard to move to a larger, more centralized location. Moore proposed using the Joint Regional Intelligence Center in Norwalk – southeast of Los Angeles. The other agencies agreed to the move, and the JRIC became a unique hybrid operations center with joint operations that were unprecedented.

The JRIC had been created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when it became clear that no single law enforcement agency could keep track of the potential threats throughout Southern California. Most agencies throughout the region maintained some level of involvement with the center, and it had brought some measure of coordination to intelligence gathering among hundreds of agencies that had a history of not communicating across county lines.

However, the JRIC had never been intended as a command center. To gear it up for the Dorner effort, the LAPD tasked Det. Dan Jenks with making it work. Jenks created a multi-tiered operation that essentially operated on three levels. The largest was a clearinghouse for collecting evidence and “clues,” which was staffed by LAPD officers who were familiar with large investigations. By the end of the manhunt, the JRIC crew had taken in and investigated 900 such clues. None led to Dorner.

Working alongside the clue clearinghouse were investigators from all of the agencies involved in the various crimes attributed to Dorner, as well as representatives from state and federal agencies that had been called in to assist. Investigators from all of the police agencies involved with the case said this interaction was invaluable. Faced with a rumor or sighting – or need to run down evidence of Dorner’s background – the various crews could walk across the room and discuss it with others who were intimately involved with the case. The overall effect was to dramatically reduce rumor mill problems, investigators said.

The final element of the center was a joint command staff tasked with determining how the agencies would work together to move the case forward. Official reports show this unprecedented joint staffing created some frustration among investigators, who reportedly felt they were spending an unnecessary amount of time briefing higher-ups. They also felt that the need to clear operations through the joint staff slowed response in some situations.

The JRIC brought efficiencies from many agencies together, Jenks said. One part of the team was the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Task Force, which had invaluable experience with wiretaps and surveillance efforts. At one point, the HIDTA team brought a judge to the JRIC to help quickly clear warrants to allow the establishment of numerous search efforts, he said. Federal and State officials also brought unique support to the effort. The Fish and Wildlife Service has tagged many of the large carnivores in the San Bernardino Mountains, and agreed to monitor tracking devices to see if the animals were congregating in one spot where a potential body might be discovered. The Department of Homeland Security agreed to allow the use of a C-123 aerial surveillance plane, which could focus infrared sensors on the snow-covered mountains to discover hikers by the heat signature.

However, by Sunday, February 10, all of this unprecedented effort had produced only frustration. Los Angeles officials announced a $1 million reward for anyone providing information leading to Dorner’s capture. The reward caused calls to the JRIC to spike, but did not lead to any new information on his location.

The command staff at the JRIC felt it was important to do another sweep of the Big Bear area, and began to put together a multiagency team to begin another search of cabins and condominiums. San Bernardino officials believed the previous searches had been as extensive as possible – but agreed to help guide the multiagency teams through the various neighborhoods and cabin clusters.

Although SBSD had formally moved the mountain command center, Bradford and many other San Bernardino County deputies were convinced that Dorner was still somewhere in the Big Bear area. They had maintained vehicle inspections on the roads leading out of the resort and were confident he had not been able to slip through. The SWAT team had been stationed at the Big Bear substation, ready to respond, if a sighting occurred.