Police under fire over fugitive's flight and death

CALIFORNIA: US police are under scrutiny after officers were recorded apparently discussing a plan to burn down the cabin where America's most wanted man made his last stand.

Christopher Dorner, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer who threatened to wage ''war'' against former colleagues, died on Tuesday night after a firefight in snowy woodland in California.

He and SWAT teams exchanged an estimated 500 rounds. One police officer was killed and another injured.

Radio activity emerged that featured an officer ordering colleagues to ''burn it [the cabin] down'' and a voice saying: ''We're gonna go forward with the plan, with the burn.''

One officer was heard saying: ''Seven burners deployed and we have a fire. We have fire in the front. He might come out the back.''

''Burners'' is a term sometimes used by police to refer to tear gas canisters.


A television station also broadcast what appeared to be an officer at the scene saying: ''We're going to burn him out'' and ''burn that … house down''.

A former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes, told CNN: ''It's clear there will have to be some further explanation.''

He said officers may have set fire to one corner of the building in an attempt to force Dorner out the other side.

Police used an armoured vehicle to break the cabin windows, threw in gas canisters, and told Dorner on a megaphone to ''surrender or come out''.

The vehicle tore down each of the cabin's four walls. One shot was heard inside and flames leapt from the building, suggesting that Dorner may have set the cabin on fire and committed suicide. Tests will determine whether he died from a gunshot wound or the flames.

A charred body was later found in the basement of the cabin. Dorner's driving licence was found in the wreckage.

Media commentators questioned the police tactics.

''Can the cops really burn a suspect alive? Does it matter that he killed their own, that the whole world has been watching?'' asked The Atlantic's Alexander Abad-Santos.

''This was a manhunt with an end in sight, surely, but if the fire was set deliberately and it did kill Dorner, is that an acceptable amount of legal force?''

The San Bernardino county sheriff, John McMahon, bristled at a televised press conference on Wednesday when reporters raised similar questions.

''I can tell you it was not on purpose,'' Mr McMahon said. ''We did not intentionally burn down the cabin to get Mr Dorner out.''

Dorner had gone on the run after allegedly shooting dead three people including a policeman, but was discovered by cleaners in a cabin close to where his burnt-out truck had been found abandoned last Friday.

Commentators and neighbours questioned the effectiveness of the massive police manhunt, with many cabin owners interviewed by the Los Angeles Times saying police had never knocked on their door.

''The guy was hiding under their noses,'' CNN reporter Miguel Marques said. ''Shocking.''

A member of the San Bernardino sheriff's team at the news conference insisted that officers had gone to each cabin, and if there was no sign of a break-in, they moved on to the next cabin. The news conference was abruptly closed after just a few minutes.

For six days, Dorner had been hiding just 100 metres from the police command centre in Big Bear Lake. On Tuesday, two maids arrived to clean the property. Dorner tied them up and stole their Nissan vehicle but they were able to break free and called 911.

Dorner was soon spotted by a warden from the California department of fish and wildlife. He sped off and crashed the car before stealing a truck.

After exchanging fire with the warden Dorner left the vehicle and fled into the woods, retreating to the cabin in Seven Oaks, a fishing spot on the banks of the Santa Ana River, where he was besieged and died.

Telegraph, London; Deutsche Presse-Agentur