San Bernardino DA: Lethal force used against ex-LAPD cop Christopher Dorner was justified

An American flag flies half-staff in the middle of the cabin grounds where Christopher Dorner died near Big Bear. Many items, like furniture and books, have stayed put after the fire burned the walls of the cabin down to its foundation.
An American flag flies half-staff in the middle of the cabin grounds where Christopher Dorner died near Big Bear. Many items, like furniture and books, have stayed put after the fire burned the walls of the cabin down to its foundation. Erika Aguilar/KPCC

The officers involved in the standoff and shootout that ultimately led to the death of ex-LAPD cop Christopher Dorner acted lawfully by using deadly and non-deadly force against him. The conclusion is included in the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office final report on the incident, which was made public on Tuesday. The complete report can be read below. 

On February 12, 2013, Dorner died in a cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains after a lengthy shootout with law enforcement agents. At that point, Dorner had killed three people: two civilians in Irvine and an officer in Riverside, according to authorities. There was a massive manhunt for him, which stretched into Mexico and neighboring states. He later killed a San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy during the shootout near Big Bear, according to authorities.

The 59-page report covers the actions of 37 law enforcement agents involved in multiple shootings that took place in the San Bernardino Mountains on the day Dorner died. The incidents include:

  • Dorner's gunfire exchange with wardens from the California Department of Fish and Game.
  • Dorner's apparent ambush of San Bernardino sheriff's deputies who were following his tire tracks, which resulted in the death of Deputy Jeremiah MacKay.
  • The final standoff in the cabin where Dorner died.

Related: LAPD manhunt: The search for alleged cop killer Christopher Dorner

The report describes the scene outside the cabin where law enforcement agents eventually trapped Dorner. The first struggle was attending to two wounded deputies at the scene. Officers shot repeatedly at the cabin and deployed multiple smoke grenades in an attempt to create cover to rescue the injured deputies. Eventually, the wounded "were put into the backseat of a truck and were driven to a landing zone," and evacuated by helicopter. One survived; McKay did not.

Next, officers who specialize in dealing with barricaded suspects arrived. The San Bernardino Police Department's "Bearcat" – a large crane-like vehicle that runs on tracks like a tank – was used to remove law enforcement officers who were stranded in front of the cabin. The SWAT officers shot tear gas, also called "cold gas," into the cabin. Dorner was setting off green smoke bombs within, making it impossible for SWAT teams to enter, according to the report.

Next, the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department made what would become a controversial decision: After announcements over a loud speaker went unheeded, the department: "decided that pyrotechnic gas, or 'hot gas,' would be utilized because the other types of gas deployed had no effect."

The cabin then caught on fire. The report concluded: "Dorner had ample time to surrender and exit the cabin but did not do so." The authors also noted that several exits were free from flames, giving the fugitive an opportunity to escape.

"As the fire spread, law enforcement personnel heard a single distinctive gunshot coming 
from the cabin," according to the report. It was Dorner committing suicide, using a gun that was later matched to the murders in Irvine, according to the report. As the fire consumed the cabin, law enforcement agents described hearing rounds of ammunition explode inside.

According to the report, an autopsy determined Dorner did suffer injuries from the fire, but the self-inflicted gunshot was the cause of death.

The report does not address earlier media reports of a recording allegedly capturing deputies talking about deliberately setting the cabin on fire.

Most of the report focuses on the inevitability of Dorner's death.

"Dorner was determined to maximize law enforcement losses," according to the report.

When deputies arrived at the cabin to try to evacuate the injured: "Dorner demonstrated no evidence of empathy, or even humanity, regarding the downed officers. Dorner continued to escalate the situation into an all-out war zone," the report concluded.

The report concludes that law enforcement at the scene "had no choice" but to engage Dorner.

"This was not their choice, it was his," according to the report.

San Bernardino County District Attorney report on the use of lethal force against ex-LAPD Officer Christopher Dorner

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