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Dorner's LAPD firing case hinged on credibility

The Police Department concluded Dorner was lying when he said his training officer kicked a man during an arrest. But it's not so clear whose testimony should be believed.

February 10, 2013|By Jack Leonard, Joel Rubin and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times
  • Christopher Jordan Dorner, who has since been fired from the Los Angeles Police Department, wears his Navy camouflage uniform as he poses with then-LAPD Chief William J. Bratton in 2006.
Christopher Jordan Dorner, who has since been fired from the Los Angeles… (Los Angeles Police Department )

 For a Los Angeles Police Department disciplinary panel, the evidence was persuasive: Rookie officer Christopher Jordan Dorner lied when he accused his training officer of kicking a mentally ill man during an arrest.

But when a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge examined the case a year later in 2010 as part of an appeal filed by Dorner, he seemed less convinced.

Judge David P. Yaffe said he was "uncertain whether the training officer kicked the suspect or not" but nevertheless upheld the department's decision to fire Dorner, according to court records reviewed by The Times.

As the manhunt for the ex-cop wanted in the slayings of three people enters its sixth day, Dorner's firing has been the subject of debate both within and outside the LAPD. An online manifesto that police attributed to Dorner claims he was railroaded by the LAPD and unjustly fired. His allegations have resonated among the public and some LAPD employees who have criticized the department's disciplinary system, calling it capricious and retaliatory toward those who try to expose misconduct.

Seeking to address those concerns, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced this weekend that he was reopening the investigation into Dorner's disciplinary case. "It is important to me that we have a department that is seen as valuing fairness," Beck said.

LAPD records show that Dorner's disciplinary panel heard from several witnesses who testified that they did not see the training officer kick the man. The panel found that the man did not have injuries consistent with having been kicked, nor was there evidence of having been kicked on his clothes. A key witness in Dorner's defense was the man's father, who testified that his son told him he had been kicked by police. The panel concluded that the father's testimony "lacked credibility," finding that his son was too mentally ill to give a reliable account.

The online manifesto rails against the LAPD officials who took part in the review hearing and vows revenge. Police allege Dorner killed his own attorney's daughter and her fiance last weekend in Irvine.

"Your lack of ethics and conspiring to wrong a just individual are over. Suppressing the truth will [lead] to deadly consequences for you and your family," the manifesto says.

Dorner's case revolved around a July 28, 2007, call about a man causing a disturbance at the DoubleTree Hotel in San Pedro. When Dorner and his training officer showed up, they found Christopher Gettler. He was uncooperative and threw a punch at one of the officers, prompting Dorner's training officer, Teresa Evans, to use an electric Taser weapon on him.

Nearly two weeks later, Dorner walked into Sgt. Donald Deming's office at the Harbor Division police station. There were tears in Dorner's eyes, the sergeant later testified.

Deming gave the following account of what happened next:

"I have something bad to talk to you about, something really bad," Dorner told him.

Evans, Dorner explained, had kicked Gettler once in the face and twice in the left shoulder or nearby chest area. Afterward, Dorner said, Evans told him not to include the kicks on the arrest report.

"Promise me you won't do anything," Dorner asked Deming.

"No, Chris. I have to do something," Deming responded.

An internal affairs investigation into the allegation concluded the kicks never occurred. Investigators subsequently decided that Dorner had fabricated his account. He was charged with making false accusations.

At the December 2008 Board of Rights hearing, Dorner's attorney, Randal Quan, conceded that his client should have reported the kicks sooner but told the board that Dorner ultimately did the right thing. He called the case against Dorner "very, very ugly."

"This officer wasn't given a fair shake," Quan said, according to transcripts of the board hearing. "In fact, what's happening here is this officer is being made a scapegoat."

At the hearing, Dorner stuck to his story. Evans, he said, kicked Gettler once in the left side of his collarbone lightly with her right boot as they struggled to handcuff him. She kicked him once more forcefully in the same area, Dorner testified, and then much harder in the face, snapping Gettler's head back. Dorner said he noticed fresh blood on Gettler's face.

Dorner did not immediately report the kicks to a sergeant, he said, because he was asked only what force he had used, not what his partner had done. And as a rookie who had already filed complaints against fellow officers, he feared retaliation from within the department, Dorner testified.

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