Big Bear residents question how Christopher Dorner eluded manhunt

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After Christopher Dorner emabarked on his killing spree, law enforcement authorities promised the massive manhunt for the fugitive would "leave no stone unturned."
 
When Dorner's burned out truck was discovered in the forest near Big Bear on Feb. 7, 200 officers were dispatched to conduct a door-to-door search of the area that proved fruitless.
 
Now it appears Dorner was hiding right under everyone's noses.

At a press conference Wednesday, San Bernardino Deputy Chief Steve Kovensky described the ground hunt in Big Bear this way: “About 80 percent of the cabins in that area are part-time cabins. We went to each cabin. If there was no sign of break-in or open doors, we then moved on to the next cabin.”

That approach left many residences unsearched, including the one where Dorner may have been hiding. It's right across the street from where police initially set-up their command post.
 
"I think in some ways they definitely screwed up,” said Andrea Benson, who lives just 500 feet from the condo where Dorner briefly held a couple hostage Tuesday. The couple said they thought Dorner had been there for days.
 
Benson says deputies didn't search her house.
 
"They never came anywhere on our street,” Benson said. “The only activity we saw were a few police cars driving by…not very many. But that was it, no knocking on our door."

Law enforcement officials haven't answered repeated questions from KPCC about their search.
 
But beyond knocking on doors, could they — without a warrant — have legally entered unoccupied residences like the one Dorner was found in?
 
Yes, says Laurie Levenson, professor of criminal law at Loyola Law School.
 
"Ordinarily law enforcement would need a warrant to go into someone's home,” Levenson said. “But this isn't an ordinary circumstance. This is what we call exigent circumstances. They're chasing after a dangerous individual.”

But just because officers can search without a warrant doesn't mean they should, Levenson said. That's especially true in a place such as Big Bear, where many of the cabins sit vacant.
 
"Part of the difficulty is breaking into the cabin," Levenson said. “How do you secure entrance into the cabin? Do you really need to break-in? Can you get enough information by knowing it’s a secured cabin?”

When cabins are occupied, searches can easily go awry, said Eugene O'Donnell, professor of Law and Police Studies at John Jay Criminal College.
 
"There are real dangers to throwing people's doors open,” O’Donnell said. “People get heart attacks in these situations."
 
He says it's easy to say now that police should have searched every house in the area but, realistically, officers are limited in what they can do.
 
"It's not a house-to-house search like the military can do. It's not Fallujah," O’Donnell said. "They're trying to do civilian law enforcement in a free country, trying to be mindful of balancing rights and protections people might have and the need to get this guy."

Before the standoff with Dorner ended on Tuesday, he killed one sheriff’s deputy and wounded another. That brought his toll to four deaths and two people wounded.
 
Dorner had eluded a search that started out with hundreds of law enforcement officials going door-to-door in Big Bear. By the time he was spotted, that number had shrank to two dozen.

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