Eight Los Angeles police officers who mistakenly opened fire on Los Angeles Times newspaper delivery women thinking they were rogue ex-cop Christopher Dorner in 2013 will not be criminally charged, the L.A. County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday.
The officers opened fire in the predawn hours of Feb. 7, 2013, as Margie Carranza and her mother, Emma Hernandez, were slowly cruising though a Torrance neighborhood in a pickup truck delivering papers.
Law enforcement officers around the region were on edge during the massive manhunt for Dorner, the ex-LAPD officer who sought vengeance against police officials he blamed for his firing. Dorner ultimately killed four people and wounded three others before he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a shootout with police near Big Bear.
In Torrance, the LAPD officers were in the area protecting a captain believed to be one of Dorner's targets. The officers thought the women's truck matched the description of Dorner's vehicle.
Hernandez was shot twice. Carranza suffered cuts to her hand, likely from broken glass. Both women survived and received a $4.2-million legal settlement from the city.
In an interview with investigators, Carranza characterized the incident as a "giant atrocity" and a "savage deed," according to a district attorney's memo to the LAPD made public on Wednesday.
Threats from Dorner to target law enforcement command centers "created an environment that was significantly different from other shootings,” the document said. The officers, the memo said, saw a vehicle similar to the one Dorner was believed to be driving crawling down the residential street with its hazard lights and headlights on. One officer said he mistook the sound of a newspaper hitting the ground for a gunshot, the memo said.
“The fear of Dorner was understandable and justified," the document said. "There is no evidence to suggest that the officers did not honestly believe that Dorner was in the vehicle, nor is there evidence to suggest that the officers did not honestly believe they were being fired upon."
The memo said that once the women's vehicle came to a stop, "the barrage of gunfire was tremendous, and troubling."
Beck faulted the officers for jumping to the conclusion that Dorner was in the truck. Beck said the officers compounded their mistake by shooting in one another's directions with an unrestrained barrage of gunfire.
A lawyer representing the officers said Wednesday that the district attorney’s office made a "wise decision" in deciding not to file criminal charges.
Attorney Gary Fullerton blamed the shooting on a "big chain of mistakes" stemming from how the LAPD's top brass handled the manhunt, saying the officers in the Torrance shooting didn’t have the proper equipment, training or information to handle their assignment. The district attorney's memo said that the officers were armed only with shotguns and handguns even though Dorner was known to be carrying high-powered weaponry.
The officers, Fullerton said, believed the house they were guarding was Dorner’s top target. Then, he said, the officers saw a vehicle they thought looked like Dorner’s drive down the street and heard what they thought was a gunshot.
"They truly thought that they were fighting Chris Dorner at that moment," Fullerton said. "When they realized what they did, they all felt terrible .… But at the time that they did it, they felt absolutely that they had to do what they had to do."
Fullerton acknowledged that the officers used faulty tactics before the shooting, but emphasized that it was because department managers didn’t adequately prepare them for the high-pressure situation.
"The department pushed ill-prepared officers out there," Fullerton said. "This Dorner thing was probably a once-in-a-lifetime type situation -- but it could happen again. But I don’t think the department is taking responsibility for their share of why this thing happened and what they’re going to do about it in the future."