Media Gets It Wrong On the Christopher Dorner Incident

by GREGORY D. LEE February 19, 2013

The media coverage of the murderous rampage of former LAPD police officer Christopher Dorner and his eventual suicide illustrates the media's tendency to report wrong conclusions as facts.  

For example, the media widely reported that Dorner was a former "highly trained" police officer and was intimately familiar with LAPD and military tactics. They gushed over his being a "marksman" with a rifle and an "expert" with handguns. What they didn't report, probably because they didn't know any better, is that in both police and military circles a "marksman" is the lowest level of qualification one can achieve. So, in other words, he wasn't that good of a shot with a rifle, but may have been very proficient with a handgun.

As far as his police training goes, Dorner graduated from the basic LAPD academy and spent two months on patrol before being involuntarily called to active duty to deploy to Iraq. When he returned a year later, he resumed his probationary period performing patrol duties with a Field Training Officer (FTO) that he eventually made false accusations of two months later. This means he had a whopping four months of real police experience with a year in between not performing the job. Dorner had no investigative training whatsoever. So, Dorner knew as much about police work as Piers Morgan knows about firearms.

Despite the media capturing from his Facebook page, photographs of Dorner in a Navy flight suit, it was several days later that they learned from TSA that he may have had some type of flight experience. I'm still not sure how TSA got involved. It never dawned on reporters that pictures of him entering a jet aircraft and standing at a podium in his flight suit were indicators that he was probably involved in Naval aviation. The problem was that no reporter recognized that Dorner was wearing a flight suit. And, apparently no reporter bothered to ask someone who might have recognized the difference between a flight suit and a battle dress uniform.

If Dorner had a role in Naval aviation, he probably attended the Navy's version of the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school, which is primarily attended by pilots, crew members, and others who could easily find themselves on their own behind enemy lines. SERE school gives its students the capacity to evade capture, live off the land, and escape if captured. This might have explained Dorner's ability to initially evade capture by the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department in the Big Bear wilderness. It later turned out someone left a cabin door unlocked and he merely hid inside until the owners discovered him several days later.

Authorities eventually pursued Dorner into another cabin where a combat style firefight erupted. CNN's Anderson Cooper was on the phone with former LAPD Chief William Bratton when a huge plume of black smoke began to billow from the log cabin. Cooper asked the chief if tear gas canisters were causing the black smoke. The chief wasn't watching the video, but if he had, he would have immediately recognized that the cabin was on fire! Tear gas, in any form, does not create black smoke.

When reporters overheard the sheriff's radio traffic about the use of "burners," they, and the public, immediately assumed the deputies set fire to the cabin in order to kill him. What the reporters involved in the media frenzy didn't realize is that "burners" are the common names for canisters of tear gas that is released through a pyrotechnic burning process that efficiently disperses the gas through heat. Because contents of buildings where "burners" are deployed often contain nylon carpeting, wood paneling, curtains, sofas and other flammable materials, there is a high probability that a fire could start. These types of canisters are used as a last resort. I think most would agree that neither the deputies nor Dorner were in the mood to negotiate his surrender. Dorner had just shot two deputies and made it very clear in his manifesto that he expected to be killed by the police because of his criminal actions. He was also firing a rifle at the deputies when they deployed the tear gas in an attempt to flush Dorner from the cabin.

In an AP report that Dorner's cause of death was probably a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, the reporter mentioned the "arsenal" of weapons found in his possession, "including assault rifles with flash suppressors that masked the sound of gunfire and the location it was coming from..." I hate to appear as a know-it-all, but it's easy when competing with reporters who know nothing about the topic. Flash suppressors suppress the rifle's muzzle flash when fired and is designed to conceal the location of the shooter. They have nothing to do with deadening the sound of the fired bullet. Suggesting assault rifles have silencers make them sound all the more sinister in the minds of the public.

From the overall coverage of Dorner you would have thought that LAPD was leading the charge to capture him, when in reality, all the crimes and his demise occurred in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. There were 22 very frustrated LAPD SWAT members at a San Bernardino airport waiting to be asked to join in the firefight, but they were never called.

So the next time the media reports that police are intentionally burning down a dwelling to kill a highly trained suspect, or are smoking him out so they can shoot him with an assault rifle with a flash suppressor that masks the sound of gunfire, take it with a big grain of salt.

Editor's note: Gregory D. Lee was a certified tactical instructor for the Drug Enforcement Administration and had almost 40 years of police and military experience before his retirement in 2012.

Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Gregory D. Lee is a retired Supervisory Special Agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the author of three criminal justice textbooks. While on DEA diplomatic assignment in Pakistan, he was involved in the investigation of several notable terrorism events and arrests. He recently retired after more than 39 years of active and reserve service from the U.S. Army Reserve as a Chief Warrant Officer Five Special Agent for the Criminal Investigation Division Command, better known as CID. In 2011 he completed a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan while on special assignment to the Special Operations Command Europe. Visit his website at and contact him at

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