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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

Gettler's father, Richard, testified that police eventually brought his son home and that he noticed a slight puffiness on his son's face. His son told him he had been kicked by a police officer — once in the face and twice in the chest, he said. Richard Gettler said he was shocked but decided against calling police because the injury was minor and his son could not explain what prompted the officers to use force. Gettler said that his son's mental illness prevented him from being a good witness and that he was easily scared and would often answer "yes" to everything.

Dorner's attorney, Quan, presented a brief video he took of Christopher Gettler answering Quan's questions at the attorney's office. On the video, obtained by Fox 11 News, the younger Gettler agrees when asked whether he was kicked by a police officer and points to his left cheek, indicating that's where he was struck. He says he was kicked once and that the officer was female and "almost black" with dark hair. He then corrects himself, saying she had light hair.

Evans is listed in department and court records as white with blond hair.

At the disciplinary hearing, Christopher Gettler could not give the current year and sometimes provided seemingly random answers to questions. He said he did not recall how he was hurt during the encounter with the officers and thought they had used a club on him.

Evans denied kicking Gettler. She had been placed on desk duty for about seven months during the department's investigation and prevented from earning extra money outside the department. "It was very difficult on me personally," she testified.

Dorner, she said, was having problems readjusting to police work after returning from a 13-month military deployment overseas. He told her that family members had noticed a change in him and that he would seek help for it, she testified. On one occasion, he started crying in their patrol car, she said.

On several evaluation forms, Evans rated Dorner as "satisfactory" but indicated he needed to improve in certain areas. At one point, she told him she would give him an "unsatisfactory" rating unless he improved. "He was upset," she said.

Records show that Dorner reported the kicks a day after he received an evaluation in which Evans noted that he needed to show improvement in three categories, including the time it took to write reports, officer safety and use of common sense and good judgment.

She said Dorner had told her the department was a "racist organization," which she said she reported to a supervisor. That supervisor, however, denied during the hearing that Evans told her that.

Three witnesses, including two hotel employees and a port police officer, testified that they did not see Evans kick Gettler. The port police officer recalled telling Dorner to fix his tie. But a photograph from the scene showed that Dorner was not wearing a tie.

The board's three members — two LAPD captains and a criminal defense attorney — unanimously ruled against Dorner. They found that his claims lacked credibility and that he was motivated in part by his fear that his training officer would give him a poor evaluation that could end his career.

To fire Dorner, the board had only to conclude that it was more likely than not that he had made up his story about the kick. From then on, it was up to Dorner to prove that the board was wrong, a burden that Yaffe and a subsequent appeals court found he did not meet.

Capt. Phil Tingirides, who chaired the board, declined to discuss specifics about the case, citing a state law that makes it a crime to disclose personnel information. But he defended his handling of the proceedings.

"I am meticulous and objective," Tingirides said. "I take the responsibility very seriously. Before his board I had never met Christopher Dorner and didn't know a thing about him. I went into that board with an open mind.... I am very comfortable with what we did and the way we did it."

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