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An officer who fired three bullets into an innocent Redondo Beach motorist's pickup truck in Torrance last week believed he had encountered cop killer Christopher Dorner, and that the murder suspect had just opened fire on fellow officers, Torrance Police Chief John Neu said Friday.
In an interview with the Daily Breeze, Neu outlined the chain of events that led to the predawn shooting Feb. 7 on Flagler Lane near Beryl Street.
Neu said officers heard a volley of gunshots from a neighborhood nearby where police were protecting a Los Angeles police official targeted by Dorner, along with panicked shouts of "Shots fired! Shots fired!"
Dorner, however, was not at the wheel of the pickup truck. He was likely on his way to Big Bear, where he ultimately died during a siege with sheriff's deputies on Tuesday.
The bullets fired in Torrance narrowly missed 38-year-old David Perdue, who was on his way to go surfing.
"I was able to make contact with Mr. Perdue. I apologized to him," Neu said. "I apologized for him having to go through this.
Neu said he could not say his officer was wrong for shooting at Perdue, which occurred in the seconds after Los Angeles Police Department officers opened fire on a truck containing newspaper carriers around the block, mistakenly believing they were Dorner.
"The difficult part here is you have to look at the totality of the circumstances," Neu said. "The reason my officer acted the way he did was based on the facts and the circumstances that he knew at the time of this incident."
During a 90-minute interview, Neu described what occurred in the hours before the shooting, including attacks on three police officers in Riverside County, and what he called Dorner's unprecedented intent to kill the family members of police officers.
Torrance police officers learned about Dorner about 4:30 p.m. Feb. 6, hours before his name was made public to the media as a suspect in the killings of a Los Angeles police officer's daughter and her fiance three days earlier in Irvine.
At two roll-call briefings that night, Torrance officers were told that Los Angeles police officers had taken positions in the 19500 block of Redbeam Avenue to protect a potential target, a high-ranking LAPD officer whose name appeared in Dorner's manifesto outlining his intent to seek revenge for his 2009 firing from the force.
"They have a complete awareness of what Dorner is capable of doing based on his previous actions, the Irvine homicides, where he targeted a family member of a law enforcement officer for LAPD," Neu said. "That is unprecedented and, in my opinion, game changing."
The report resulted in a "anxiety within our department," Neu said.
Officers were briefed on Dorner's military history and knowledge of weapons, and were provided with his physical description and told he drove a blue Nissan Titan.
Two officers involved in the shooting were in the police station in the early morning hours of Feb. 7 when news and police radio broadcasts reported the shooting of a Los Angeles police officer in Corona, and two officers in Riverside, one of whom was killed, Neu said.
A short time later, a report was broadcast to South Bay law enforcement officers indicating Dorner was on the Century (105) Freeway at Sepulveda Boulevard. A motorist reported seeing his Nissan Titan, saying it was driving erratically on the freeway. The motorist provided a partial license plate number of 808, Neu said. The actual license number of Dorner's truck was 8D83987.
The report convinced officers that Dorner was on his way to Torrance to attack the LAPD official. Two officers drove to Flagler Lane and Towers Street to block the road into the neighborhood with their patrol car in case Dorner was on his way, Neu said.
Shortly after 5 a.m., Perdue left his home in Redondo Beach and headed toward Torrance to pick up a friend to go surfing. He drove south on Flagler from Beryl Street and was stopped by the Torrance officers, who got out of their car and told him to turn around.
Perdue made the U-turn and headed north, just as two Torrance officers in another patrol car turned south onto Flagler to join their colleagues in protecting the neighborhood.
As they did, gunfire erupted on Redbeam.
Around the block, seven Los Angeles police officers guarding the police official's house opened fire on a pickup truck that rolled into the neighborhood, mistakenly believing it was Dorner. The truck contained a mother and daughter delivering Los Angeles Times newspapers. A 71-year-old woman was hit twice in the back.
The Torrance officers parked on Flagler heard the gunshots and also believed Dorner had arrived. The two officers who had just pulled onto Flagler, also heard the gunfire and saw Perdue's truck's headlights coming their direction in the dark. They could see the other Torrance patrol car at the end of the block with its doors open and no officers in sight, Neu said.
"They immediately hear one of the officers from the unit parked there come on the police radio and, in a panicked voice, yell, `Shots fired! Shots fired!"' Neu said. "The unit that is coming into the area believes those two officers are being shot at."
Based on what they believed was happening, the officers crashed into the truck to stop it, he said.
"At the exact same time, after the collision, the officer heard two more rounds being fired and shot three rounds into the pickup truck," Neu said.
That officer, who was unable to get out of his car because the crash had damaged it, believed the driver in the truck was shooting at him and his partner, Neu said.
"It's important to understand what they saw, what they heard and why they acted the way they did," Neu said.
The events happened so quickly, there was no time to stop, get out of their patrol car and order the vehicle to stop, the chief said.
Three bullets passed through the windshield, but fortunately missed Perdue. Perdue was ordered out of the truck and was taken to a position of cover, police said.
"Everything stopped, but obviously they don't know what is going on," Neu said.
Around the block, Los Angeles police investigated their shooting scene, which Chief Charlie Beck called a tragic mistake.
Neu said he spoke to Perdue later that day. The chief said he offered to provide him with a new vehicle, cover his medical expenses and asked Perdue if he would like him to meet with his wife and two children to discuss what happened.
"I ended the conversation by saying, `I would like an opportunity to do what's right for you and your family," Neu said. "I apologized again."
Torrance police and the District Attorney's Office will investigate the shooting. Torrance police also will conduct an internal review.
"We are going to critically review our policies and procedures, our training, our tactics, our practices," Neu said. "And based on what we learn, there may be changes to those things within the department."
Torrance police, accompanied by Los Angeles police and representatives from the city of Los Angeles, visited residents on Redbeam on Thursday night to explain what happened and how to file claims to pay for damaged cars and property from the barrage of bullets.
The city of Los Angeles would be responsible for those claims, but Neu said he needed to talk to his own residents about what happened.
"We have a responsibility to go door-to-door and explain to our residents, our community what took place and what we are going to do for them," he said.
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