US Border Patrol agents are helping police widen the mountaintop manhunt for an ex-policeman wanted as a suspect in three California slayings, seeking to block his potential escape to neighbouring Mexico.
Former Los Angeles officer Christopher Dorner, 33, has declared war on law enforcement officers and their families in a manifesto posted on the internet that complains of his 2008 firing from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
Over the past several days, he is accused of having killed the daughter of a retired LAPD captain and the young woman’s fiance in Irvine, California, as well as a police officer from Riverside.
Police have said they believe Dorner is carrying multiple weapons, including an assault-style rifle.
The hunt for Dorner has centred on the area of Big Bear Lake, a popular ski resort in the San Bernardino Mountains about 129km northeast of Los Angeles, where his burning pickup truck was discovered on Thursday (NZT Friday). Authorities have acknowledged he may have slipped away undetected.
The axle of Dorner’s truck was damaged, indicating he may have been forced to abandon it, said Irvine police spokesman Lieutenant Bill Whalen.
There is speculation in the media, however, that Dorner may have left the truck as a diversion tactic.
‘‘At this point it was not determined when that damage occurred,’’ Whalen said, adding it could have happened after the truck was abandoned and set on fire.
On Saturday, authorities dispatched officers on the ground and air units to begin a third day of searches in the mountain, said Cindy Bachman, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
Officers have used dogs and armoured personnel carriers equipped with snow chains to manoeuvre through the mountains. Over 100 officers have been deployed to the area.
The US Border Patrol sent tactical response teams to the Big Bear Lake area to assist, said Border Patrol spokesman Steven Pitts. Those teams are typically heavily armed and specially trained.
The US Customs and Border Protection agency also sent a helicopter, Pitts said.
‘‘We did lend operational support to the San Bernardino County Sheriff in their search for this very dangerous man,’’ he said.
Federal agents at the border with Mexico are screening vehicles to prevent Dorner from fleeing the country, he said.
Southbound traffic into the border town of Tijuana has been clogged, with the backup extending over 5km.
’UNCONVENTIONAL AND ASYMMETRICAL WARFARE’
Dorner in his manifesto vowed to wage ‘‘unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty’’. But a military expert said such threats were overblown.
‘‘A guy can be a serial killer or sniper or just a murderer, he can be Jack the Ripper, but that’s hardly guerrilla warfare,’’ said Anthony James Joes, author of the book ‘Urban Guerilla Warfare’.
‘‘I don’t care how good this guy is, or how crazy this guy is, he’s not going to surround anyone,’’ said Joes, who teaches political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania.
Dorner first came to public attention on Wednesday (NZT Thursday) when he was named as a suspect in the slayings of a university security officer and his fiancee, college basketball coach Monica Quan, in Irvine, about 64km south of Los Angeles.
They were found shot to death on Sunday in a car at the top of a parking structure.
Quan, 28, was the daughter of a retired Los Angeles police captain who represented Dorner in disciplinary action that led to his 2008 firing for making false statements accusing another officer of using excessive force.
On Thursday, he traded gunfire with two Los Angeles police officers who were tracking him, and later ambushed two Riverside officers. He killed one and left the other badly wounded, police said.
Police said they were providing extra security for about 40 potential targets mentioned in Dorner’s online declaration. It was posted to Facebook but has since been taken down.
Dorner joined the Navy in 2002 and reached the rank of lieutenant. He received a rifle marksman ribbon and a pistol expert medal, according to his official service record. A Navy spokesman said those are basic-level commendations.
As the mountaintop search continued, questions have arisen over how well prepared he might be to survive the cold winter conditions if he remains in the area.
James Usera, an attorney in Salem, Oregon, played football with Dorner when both of them attended Southern Utah University in the late 1990s.
He said Dorner, who grew up in urban southern California, did not have much outdoors experience then, but they would sometimes go jackrabbit hunting together in Utah.
‘‘My memory now is that I don’t know that he ever had a gun in his hands’’ during those hunts, Usera said.
TERMINATED FOR ‘DOING THE RIGHT THING’
Dorner's claim in his online ‘‘manifesto’’ that his career was undone by racist colleagues conspiring against him comes at a time when it’s widely held that the Los Angeles Police Department has evolved well beyond the troubled racial legacy of the police beating of black man Rodney King and the OJ Simpson trial.
Dorner has depicted himself as a black man wronged, whose badge was unjustly taken in 2008 after he lodged a complaint against a white female supervisor.
‘‘It is clear as day that the department retaliated toward me,’’ Dorner said in online writings authorities have attributed to him. Racism and officer abuses, he argued, have ‘‘gotten worse’’.
The LAPD was once synonymous with violent and bigoted officers, whose culture and brand of street justice was depicted by Hollywood in films like ‘LA Confidential’ and ‘Training Day’.
But Dorner’s problems at the LAPD, which ended with his dismissal in 2008, played out as the officer ranks were growing more diverse and then-Chief William Bratton was working hard to mend relations with long-sceptical minorities.
‘‘This is no longer your father’s LAPD,’’ Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared in 2009.
Civil rights attorney Connie Rice said the department should review the Dorner case and his claims, while stressing that she is not defending the suspect in any way and is shocked by the attacks.
‘‘The open racism of the days before is gone,’’ said Rice, who closely tracks racial issues inside the department.
‘‘The overall culture has improved enormously.’’
Police say Dorner shot and killed a couple in a parking garage last weekend, the beginning of a rampage he said was retribution for his mistreatment at LAPD.
The woman who died was the daughter of a retired police captain who had represented Dorner in the disciplinary proceedings that led to his dismissal.
Hours after authorities identified Dorner as a suspect in the double murder, police believe he shot and grazed an LAPD officer and later used a rifle to ambush two Riverside police officers, killing one and seriously wounding the other.
‘‘This is a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD,’’ Dorner wrote in a 14-page online manifesto.
On Friday (NZT Saturday), a community of online sympathizers formed, echoing complaints against police that linger in some communities.
One Facebook page supporting Dorner, which had over 2300 fans by Friday evening, said ‘‘this is not a page about supporting the killing of innocent people. It’s supporting fighting back against corrupt cops and bringing to light what they do’’.
Dorner’s case is complicated.
After the Naval reservist returned to LAPD after a deployment to the Middle East in 2007, a training officer became alarmed by his conduct, which included weeping in a police car and threatening to file a lawsuit against the department, records show.
Six days after being notified in August 2007 that he could be removed from the field, Dorner accused the training officer, Sergeant Teresa Evans, of kicking suspect Christopher Gettler, a schizophrenic with severe dementia, in the chest and left cheek while handcuffing him during an arrest.
Richard Gettler, the schizophrenic man’s father, gave testimony that supported Dorner’s claim.
After his son was returned home on July 28, 2007, Richard Gettler asked ‘‘if he had been in a fight because his face was puffy’’ and his son responded that he was kicked twice in the chest by a police officer.
However, Dorner’s report to internal affairs came two weeks after the arrest, police and court records allege.
Civilian and police witnesses said they didn’t see Evans kick the man, who had a scratch on his cheek consistent with his fall into a bush. A police review board ruled against Dorner, leading to his dismissal.
Online, Dorner tells a different story. He argues he was ‘‘terminated for doing the right thing’’.
Rice was quick to point out that while the LAPD culture has improved, there are still what she calls pockets of bad behaviour.
That was echoed by Hector Villagra, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
‘‘There has definitely been improvement from those dark days,’’ Villagra said.
‘‘We are in a vastly different place, but there still are opportunities for improvement in this and any other police department.’’