Christopher Dorner Ditched Cops' Favorite Tool

In March 2004, Prince Edward Maryland, a onetime X-Files actor and crack-cocaine addict, felt relief as he drove north on Interstate 5 near Bakersfield. Three hours earlier, Maryland had fled a crime scene in Lake Forest, where he'd held his wife captive for days while beating, raping and torturing her in drug-fueled insanity. He'd hoped to escape to Canada without detection, but the first 150 miles of the trip gave a false sense of security.

For Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) deputies, the hunt for Maryland was easy for one reason: The wife-beater unwittingly carried an excellent tracking device. He had no clue his cell phone, with him in the vehicle, allowed deputies to track his whereabouts in real time almost to the foot. Near Bakersfield, officers trapped and arrested a startled Maryland, who angrily demanded to know how he'd been found.

In the years since that capture [See my “Prince Edward Maryland Is Sorry,” Aug. 16, 2012], I've repeatedly seen law-enforcement officials in Southern California dupe the public by proudly citing detecting prowess for locating high-profile criminal suspects. Government officials don't want the public to know an ugly, Orwellian truth: Nowadays, cellular-phone companies are de facto extensions of police agencies, and anyone carrying a phone can be located within seconds and without a warrant. A 2012 congressional report noted that thousands of times each day, police quietly obtain cell-phone records—including call logs, messages, photos and precise geographic-tracking data—on unsuspecting citizens.

This issue was a huge factor in the manhunt for Christopher Dorner, the ex-LAPD cop accused of committing a series of recent murders, including two in Irvine, as retaliation for the department's alleged corruption. Dorner issued a public manifesto declaring war on his former colleagues and their families. Thousands of cops from more than a dozen federal, state and local police agencies worked for more than a week to capture Dorner without success. On Feb. 11—the day before the manhunt ended near Big Bear—an LA radio correspondent noted that authorities were privately frustrated because their usual high-tech method—the reporter declined to say the obvious on-air—hadn't worked in this case.

Keeping mum about the value of cell phones to cops is understandable. Even career criminals, such as members of the Mexican mafia, commonly don't realize they are willingly carrying the potential tool of their demise. But knowing the police playbook, Dorner wisely ditched the phone.

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Dr. Dennis Clark is a 40-year physician in private practice and longtime resident of Long Beach, but on April 12, 2012, he got no respect from OCSD. Deputy Michael Thalken and five other deputies raided Clark's home and allegedly told him to “shut up and sit down” when he asked to see if his name was on the warrant. During a two-hour search, the officers confiscated the doctor's laptop containing patient information, copies of his tax returns and his 2011 Hyundai Sonata, and they questioned him about his views on medical marijuana.

Last November, Clark sued OCSD and Thalken at the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, claiming that the deputies violated his constitutional rights. According to Clark, deputies obtained the search warrant by tricking Superior Court Judge Andre Manssourian, a former prosecutor, into granting the raid. It's true that Thalken failed to tell Manssourian the home belonged to a licensed physician or that there was no evidence the doctor violated any state law.

“The affidavit contained no information linking Dr. Clark to criminal conduct,” asserts the 17-page lawsuit; it goes on to note that the doctor was justified to feel violated by the intrusion of armed cops onto his property.

But the situation isn't so black and white. Thalken, a 12-year veteran, obtained the warrant in connection with his investigation of a Lake Forest-based marijuana-distribution network from Charles Café (and/or Café 215) and suspects Jack Wayne Riback, Harry Sup Sohn and Kalvin Tsui. An undercover OCSD operation uncovered evidence that the alleged pot collective was selling marijuana “at or near” the price of pot sold illegally on the street and therefore was possibly a scam violating California law. Thalken put Riback's name on the search warrant because the Arizona resident was staying as a guest at Clark's Long Beach home and using Clark's Hyundai.

That explanation didn't assuage Clark or his lawyers. “Investigator Thalken misled the issuing judge by withholding many relevant facts,” the lawsuit states. “Thalken was aware of evidence that the collective was operating in compliance with California law. Nevertheless, he omitted any reference to this evidence and therein misled the issuing judge into perceiving that conduct he identified as criminal was in fact decriminalized under California law. If the omitted facts are included in the affidavit, probable cause is nonexistent.”

On Jan. 30, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford sided with the highly trained Thalken, concluding that the deputy's factual omissions in the search-warrant request were permissible because there was “a nexus” between Clark's personal property and Riback, the suspect.

“[Clark's] allegations [against the warrant] do not have enough substance to prevent this claim from going up in a puff of smoke,” Guilford opined as he dismissed the case before a jury could consider its merits.

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During Mike Carona's control of OCSD, Christine Murray served as a favored deputy because of her unswerving loyalty to the corrupt regime. When Carona faced sentencing for his post-FBI arrest conviction in 2009, Captain Murray wrote a public letter of support for her old boss' character. Within weeks, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, Carona's comparatively squeaky-clean replacement, transferred Murray from a powerful position to a meaningless department job, and then dismissed her entirely seven months later in an alleged layoff due to budget constraints.

Murray is suing Hutchens, claiming she was illegally punished for expressing her First Amendment sentiments for Carona, who now fittingly resides in a Colorado federal prison. According to the lawsuit, Hutchens met with Murray in August 2008 and “shared her desire that the department move forward under her tenure without embarrassing scandals and maintaining public trust.” Those words apparently didn't sink in because six months later, Murray served as Carona's character witness. In depositions, Hutchens claims her decision to dismiss Murray was not based on the captain's actions or character, but rather on eliminating unnecessary positions.

The assertion leaves Murray's Upland-based lawyer, Michael A. McGill, incredulous. In a brief filed this month, McGill accuses the sheriff of committing perjury because, in his view, she obviously covered up her desire to rid the department's management of perceived “fools” and “idiots.” According to McGill, Hutchens relies on the 2001 book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap & Others Don't as her guiding management strategy, which requires putting the right people in the right jobs.

“Incredibly, Sheriff Hutchens would now have us believe that she never took into consideration which captains and assistant sheriffs she was laying off,” wrote McGill. “The evidence in this case completely contradicts [Hutchens'] assertion that [Murray's] dismissal had nothing to do with her individually.”

The dispute is scheduled to go to trial in U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna's Santa Ana courtroom next month.

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