Christopher Dorner: Experts look for clues to alleged cop killer’s mental state

As hundreds of law enforcement officers continue to search the San Bernardino mountains for Christopher Dorner, experts and amateurs are delving into the psyche of the alleged cop killer.

Irvine Police Department/AP
This surveillance video image shows Christopher Dorner at an Orange County, Calif., hotel on Jan 28. Hundreds of police officers are hunting for this former Los Angeles police officer suspected of going on a deadly rampage to get back at those he blamed for ending his police career.

As hundreds of law enforcement officers continue to search the San Bernardino mountains for Christopher Dorner, experts and amateurs are delving into the psyche and motivations of the alleged cop killer.

He may have perished in the mountains east of Los Angeles, without the proper equipment or clothing to survive the harsh wintry weather. Or he may have drawn on his guile and training as a police officer and naval reserve lieutenant with the survival skills to elude capture, by now having left the area for parts unknown – perhaps as far away as Nevada, Arizona, or northern Mexico.

What’s known for sure is that Mr. Dorner burned with rage and the desire for revenge for what he describes in his 11-page manifesto posted on Facebook as a lifetime of racial discrimination leading up to his dismissal from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2008. And that’s given many observers enough information to examine and discuss the reasons behind what police say is a murderous rampage aimed at law officers.

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Writing on CNN’s website, James Alan Fox, professor of criminology at Northeastern University in Boston, says Dorner’s rhetoric and actions are typical of mass murderers.

“Mass murderers tend to be middle-aged men who see themselves as victims of injustice,” Dr. Fox writes. “Although bitter, resentful and full of despair, they see others, often the former boss or supervisor, as the people who are to blame for their miserable existence. Indeed, the workplace is one of the more familiar venues for mass murder, going way back to the 1980s when ‘going postal’ became part of our everyday vernacular.”

In this case, Dorner’s “workplace” is the community where LAPD officers patrol, and the targets he warns of are those officers’ families. (The first of the three people he allegedly shot and killed was the adult daughter of a retired police captain he had known.)

Professor Fox sees the five people Dorner allegedly shot (two police officers survived) as an example of “murder by proxy.”

“Even when the primary targets are not readily available, others may be viewed as guilty – and may be assaulted – simply because of their association,” Fox writes. “Meanwhile, dozens more among the alleged gunman's hit list of enemies remain on edge and in hiding until it is safe to resurface.”

Until recent years, the LAPD had a longstanding reputation for corruption, racial profiling, and abuse – characteristics Dorner in his manifesto says remain today.

Most observers strongly disagree with Dorner here, pointing to important improvements made in the department since the days of the Watts riots and the Rodney King beating that led to more violent riots.

"The open racism of the days before is gone," civil rights attorney Connie Rice, who closely tracks racial issues inside the department and has faced off against the LAPD in court, told the Associated Press. "The overall culture has improved enormously."

Hector Villagra, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, agrees.

"There has definitely been improvement from those dark days," Mr. Villagra told the AP. "We are in a vastly different place, but there still are opportunities for improvement in this and any other police department."

Still, says Ms. Rice, the LAPD should review Dorner’s case and the charges he makes.

The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that Dorner “had a history of making complaints against fellow officers within the Los Angeles Police Department, and one officer said he had a reputation as a ‘hot head,’ according to internal affairs records.”

But in an age of instant Internet communication and social media, it may not be surprising that Dorner does have supporters who agree with at least some of his rationale for striking out at his perceived enemies.

“Numerous supporters on Twitter are calling the alleged murderer a ‘Dark Knight’,” Kathleen Miles writes on Huffington Post. "One Facebook page calls him ‘the hero LA deserves, but not the one it needs right now … He's a silent guardian, watchful protector against corruption, he's our Dark Knight’.”

“The individual behind the Facebook page ‘I support Christopher Jordan Dorner’ explained to HuffPost that he started the page to steer the conversation away from Dorner's mental health,” Ms. Miles writes.

"I knew that the media was going to turn this into just another 'He's a psycho ex-cop ex-military that went insane' story, and wanted to show that there was more to what was going on than that," the individual, who wishes to remain anonymous, wrote in a Facebook message. "There is a huge underlying story of police corruption and the plight of a man that tried his best to do good but was relentlessly punished for it."

But Dorner’s mental health is seen by many as a legitimate subject for investigation – especially by law enforcement officials trying to prevent any more killing, which Dorner warns will continue until “the department states the truth about my innocence.”

Retired FBI profiler Mary Ellen O'Toole says Dorner is “somebody I call an injustice collector.”

"When they respond to an injustice that they think is out there, their reaction is completely over the top,” she told the AP.

"Is he deadly? Yes. Of course he has killed people,” says Ms. O’Toole. "But is he capable of taking on some 1,000 officers looking for him? That's someone with a personality disorder.”

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