Questions were raised yesterday over the police handling of a siege high in California’s San Bernardino mountains, which ended a week-long manhunt and resulted in the apparent death of a fugitive former Los Angeles police officer suspected of killing four people.
As forensic experts worked to identify charred human remains found on Tuesday night in a burnt-out log cabin close to the ski resort of Big Bear Lake, 100 miles north-east of Los Angeles, speculation was growing that police may have deliberately set the blaze as an act of revenge.
An expletive-laden audio recording has emerged of police officers shouting to each other for the cabin to be burned down with the suspect, Christopher Dorner, 33, barricaded inside and apparently still alive.
The exchanges on police radios, captured by a television reporter’s mobile phone and widely distributed on the internet yesterday, followed a shootout between the suspect and authorities that left one sheriff’s deputy dead and another badly injured.
One officer is heard yelling: “Burn this mother*****r down,” while another shouts: “F*****g burn this mother*****r.”
In another part of the recording, another officer says: “All right, we’re gonna go ahead with the plan with the burners… like we talked about.”
It is not clear whether the officers heard speaking on the radio were from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Swat team or the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department, which had control of the scene.
“The sheriff’s department will have a lot of questions to answer about who was making those statements on the radio and why,” former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes said in an interview with CNN.
“It just sounds terrible. It’s unprofessional to use language like that, it sounds like the person was very excited and lost their poise. Even though an officer’s been killed and emotions are high, they are professionals and [should] contain their emotions.”
Neither police agency has yet addressed the content of the recordings.
Although formal identification of the corpse could take weeks, officials are almost certain it is that of Dorner, whose ten-day reign of terror began on 3 February, with a double shooting in a car park in Irvine, a suburb of Los Angeles.
His alleged first victims were Keith Lawrence and his fiancée Monica Quan, the 27-year-old daughter of a former police union official who represented Dorner in a 2007 disciplinary hearing, after which he was fired from the LAPD for misconduct.
The retired officer, Randal Quan, said he later received a mocking telephone call from Dorner, berating him for not looking after his daughter.
Dorner announced his intention to target police officers in a lengthy rant posted to his Facebook page last week.
On 7 February, LAPD officer Michael Crain was shot dead and a colleague was wounded in an ambush in Riverside, while another officer was injured in a separate shooting later the same day.
Investigators soon found Dorner’s burnt-out pick-up truck and weapons at Big Bear Lake, but the trail went cold until Tuesday morning, when two maids who work in the ski resort reported that an armed man matching the suspect’s description had tied them up and held them hostage for two days.
As police rushed back to the town, two wildlife officers spotted and pursued a stolen white pick-up truck, whose driver crashed and carjacked another vehicle before running into the cabin.
The officer who was killed and his wounded colleague were hit by gunfire from inside.
The ensuing stand-off reached a fiery end later in the day, with images of the burning cabin watched by millions on live television, as news channels pushed back their coverage of president Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to stay with the unfolding drama.
Swat teams fired tear gas canisters and other explosive devices into the cabin, in scenes that were not broadcast, and a bulldozer was sent in to pull down the building’s walls, shortly before witnesses reported hearing a single gunshot from inside. Police said they found the charred body hours later, after letting the fire burn out, but were unable to say how the person had died.
“There’s a lot of apprehension today in any kind of celebration, because this is really not a celebration,” said LAPD spokesman Lieutenant Andy Neiman.
“It’s been a very trying time over the last couple of weeks for all of those involved.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the deputies who were injured and the deputy who was killed yesterday,” Lt Neiman said.
He added that police protection would continue for those mentioned by Dorner until the body was formally identified.
“There are some families who are literally traumatised,” he said. “They have young children, schools their kids go to, and there is great fear still. That’s a trauma they will have to recover from.
“There is still quite a bit of work to be done and you don’t stop an investigation just because the suspected individual may no longer be available.”
Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attended the funeral of Mr Crain yesterday, and paid tribute to the law- enforcement officials who snared the suspect. “There is a sigh of relief among the vast majority of these officers,” he said. “Thank God it’s over.”