Christopher Dorner’s case presents a troubling account of the Los Angeles Police Department’s (“LAPD”) search for Dorner. Christopher Dorner, age 33, retired military and former police officer is alleged to have killed three persons in revenge retaliation of his dismissal from the police force for lying about a fellow officer he accused of excessive force towards a mentally ill suspect. Dorner vowed to seek revenge by “killing officers and their families.” He is suspected in the killings of three persons, including one police officer. As of Monday, February 11, 2013, Christopher Dorner was charged in the killing of one police officer and the attempted murder of 3 others.
Since last week, the LAPD has been on a rampage of their own, in attempting to locate Dorner. It is no doubt that the police are on edge while Dorner is running rogue and rampant allegedly killing police. However, the LAPD has proven they intend to use deadly force, shoot first and ask questions later—if there is a later. Their style of justice has resulted in the shootings at three innocent persons. The first incident occurred on Thursday, February 7 when David Perdue, a white man was shot at by police while en route to go surfing, according to the LA Times. 71 year old Emma Hernandez and her daughter Maggie Carranza, 47 who were driving an aqua blue Toyota Tacoma and not a grey Nissan Titan like Dorner’s vehicle, were shot at over 30 times with no warnings the following day. Hernandez was shot in the back two times. Those shots were intended for whom the police thought was Christopher Dorner. While I understand the frustration and tensions of the police in looking for Dorner, their frustration cannot lead to the loss of other innocent lives and the disregard of the laws that apply to our society.
The laws and rights that still apply to Christopher Dorner are etched in the U.S. Constitution. No matter what the circumstances, we as a civilized society still have laws in place. And those laws apply to even alleged police killers. Even though Dorner appears armed and dangerous, no law says that he should be shot immediately on sight without warning. By all accounts so far, that’s exactly what the LAPD intend to do. Let me make clear that I certainly do not condone the alleged actions of Christopher Dorner.
The Dorner case in some aspects reminds me of the D.C. Sniper case in October, 2002. For 3 weeks, in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, John Muhammad, known as the D.C. Sniper and his companion, Lee Boyd Malvo went on a random killing rampage directed at innocent persons of all races, genders and ages. Ten people were killed and three others critically injured. The actions of the two put the entire region on edge and concern for safety—similar to Dorner. Killings and shootings by Muhammad and Malvo occurred at gas stations, in shopping mall parking lots, near schools, at bus stops and other public locations—all at random individuals. It was suspected that the two were driving a white van. During the three weeks in October, 2002 before apprehension, countless white vans were stopped and searched for the two. In the end, no white van was involved. Law enforcement officers in all three jurisdictions never once shot at an innocent person.
At the end, the D.C. Sniper, John Muhammad and his companion co-conspirator Lee Boyd Malvo were apprehended while sleeping in a car. If Chris Dorner is found sleeping in a car, he’ll die in his sleep. His former fellow police officers will probably shoot and kill him before sounding any warning or reading any Constitutional rights. At the end of the day, if this should happen, the hunted and the hunters become one and the same –both taking life unjustifiably. I don’t condone the alleged actions of Christopher Dorner, but I know he is still entitled to the rights afforded him under the U. S. Constitution. And the LAPD have no right to take away his constitutional rights- even if the case is personal to them.
Among those Constitutional rights are ones enumerated in the 5th and 6th amendments. Under the 5th amendment, no person held to answer for a crime shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process. And under the 6th amendment, an accused has a right to a trial by jury, to confront witnesses and to a speedy trial. It may be doubtful if Christopher Dorner wants to be taken alive but that is not for the LAPD to decide by shooting without warning at vehicles that appear to belong to Dorner.
The LAPD are making the case for Chris Dorner by using excessive and almost deadly force against innocent bystanders, whom they mistakenly believed to be Dorner. Where police and the criminal suspect take the law into their own hands, no one is safe. And everyone’s rights are infringed, even innocent persons. No one should be above the law—including the LAPD even while searching for Christopher Dorner.
While a peaceful surrender by Christopher Dorner appears unlikely at this point, the LAPD should not shoot to kill him on sight. Even Christopher Dorner has constitutional rights.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines, founder of LegalSpeaks is a former prosecutor who addresses issues on race and gender in law and politics. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national, international and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, local NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV and XM Sirius radio. Her works have appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, Washington Times, and NPR, among others. She also contributes articles to the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.