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California fugitive's rant, vengeance killings put focus on evolving LAPD legacy

By Michael R. Blood

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Feb. 9 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

In this Thursday, May 1, 2008 file photo, Los Angeles Police Officers stand near "Phraselators" as they monitor May Day protesters gathering downtown to call for immigration reform in Los Angeles. The department is using new tactics and technology, including the "Phraselators" which can broadcast to a crowd in different languages, in hopes of overcoming the memory of the previous year's violent event.

Ric Francis, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Fugitive ex-Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner's claim in an online "manifesto" that his career was undone by racist colleagues conspiring against him comes at a time when it's widely held that the police department has evolved well beyond the troubled racial legacy of Rodney King and the O.J. Simpson trial.

Dorner, who is suspected in a string of vengeance killings, 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 not improved at LAPD since the King beating but have "gotten worse."

Dorner's problems at the LAPD, which ended with his dismissal, played out without public notice more than four years ago, as the department gradually emerged from federal oversight following a corruption scandal. At the time, the officer ranks were growing more diverse and then-Chief William Bratton was working hard to mend relations with long-skeptical minorities.

"This is no longer your father's LAPD," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared in 2009, after the federal clampdown was ended.

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.

She said the 10,000-member force headquartered in a glass-walled high-rise in downtown Los Angeles has entered a new era.

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

Police say Dorner shot and killed a couple in a parking garage last weekend in Irvine, the beginning of a rampage he said was retribution for his mistreatment at LAPD. A massive search for him continued Saturday, centered on the mountain town of Big Bear Lake.

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, a community of online sympathizers formed, echoing complaints against police that linger in some communities. One Facebook page supporting Dorner, which had over 2,300 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."

The LAPD was once synonymous with violent and bigoted officers, whose culture and brand of street justice was depicted by Hollywood in films like "L.A. Confidential" and "Training Day."

In 1965, 34 people died when the Watts riots, triggered by a traffic stop of a black man by a white California Highway Patrol officer, exposed deep fractures between blacks and an overwhelmingly white law enforcement community.

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