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L.A. police chief, boss feud publicly over decision in Dorner case

The decision to return eight Los Angeles police officers involved in a controversial shooting to full duty sparked an unusual public spat between the police chief and his civilian boss Thursday.

In a department-wide message sent Wednesday, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced the seven patrol officers and a sergeant will be retrained and then allowed to resume their regular duties. For the last year, the officers have been kept off the streets on desk assignments as department officials investigated the shooting, in which the officers fired more than 100 rounds after mistaking two women in a pickup truck for fugitive Christopher Dorner.

Earlier in the week, the Police Commission, which oversees the LAPD, found that each of the officers had violated the department's deadly force policy.

After the commission's decision, it was up to Beck to decide what discipline, if any, to impose on the officers. Although Beck could still decide to punish the officers, several sources familiar with the case said he was unlikely to do so.

In his message, which went out to officers on the department's internal computer network and obtained by The Times, Beck was critical of the officers' handling of the shooting but made clear they still had his support.

"I have confidence in their abilities as LAPD officers to continue to do their jobs in the same capacity they had been assigned," Beck said.

Commission President Steve Soboroff interpreted Beck's message to mean no discipline would be handed down. He told The Times, "I would have expected more significant discipline for the actions of most of the officers in this incident. I trust that the training will be extensive and the department and officers will move forward from this tragic incident."

Beck, in turn, had a retort for Soboroff on Thursday morning.

"Steve is a new police commissioner and we can't comment on discipline," Beck said. "He shouldn't … I'll leave it at that. We can't comment on discipline," Beck said during his weekly appearance on KTLA News.

Although restrained, the men's prickly public airing of their disagreement is unusual for the LAPD, where internal strife is almost always dealt with behind closed doors. Since the authority to punish officers belongs to the chief, comments from a commissioner about discipline, especially publicly, tread on particularly sensitive terrain. At the same time, the commission serves essentially as Beck's boss, so feuding with its president is a move fraught with risk.

Before Beck's decision to return the officers to regular duty, he and Soboroff had been in sync on how to handle the shooting. Beck recommended that commissioners find that the officers violated the shooting policy. In a report to the oversight panel, Beck faulted the officers for jumping to the conclusion that Dorner was in the truck they opened fire upon. Beck said the officers compounded their mistake by shooting in one another's direction with an unrestrained barrage of gunfire.

Dorner, a former LAPD officer, killed four people and vowed more bloodshed as he sought vengeance against the law enforcement officials he blamed for his firing.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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