Los Angeles

Court Upholds Dismissal of Camp Ranger's Claim for Reward Money in Christopher Dorner Manhunt

Plaintiff Richard Heltebrake was carjacked by the fugitive ex-Los Angeles police officer during a roughly 10-day Southern California crime spree

A state appellate court upheld a judge's dismissal of claims against Los Angeles and other cities by a camp ranger who felt he deserved reward money for helping locate fugitive ex-cop Christopher Dorner.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal found Monday that the judge was right to decide that Richard Heltebrake's claims were without merit, City News Service reported. Heltebrake said he alerted authorities when he was carjacked by the fugitive ex-Los Angeles police officer during a roughly 10-day Southern California crime spree.

The three-justice panel found in a 32-page opinion that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Fahey was correct when he granted motions by the cities of Los Angeles and Irvine, Riverside County and the law firm of Richards, Watson & Gershon, dismissing all of them as defendants in plaintiff Heltebrake's lawsuit.

Fahey's October 2016 rulings came more than a year after the Court of Appeal unanimously reversed Judge Elizabeth Allen White's ruling dismissing all of Heltebrake's claims against the city of Los Angeles and Riverside County. White in August 2015 found that the claims against the city of Los Angeles and Riverside County infringed on "protected activities."

The appeals court disagreed, but upheld White's ruling dismissing the city of Riverside as a defendant.

Dorner killed four people and engaged in a standoff with police before killing himself in a burning cabin in the San Bernardino mountains five years ago. The manhunt began after a couple was found fatally shot Feb. 3 in an Irvine apartment parking garage. The victims were identified as Keith Lawrence and Monica Quan, the daughter of a retired LAPD captain.

The next day, Dorner posted the 6,000-word manifesto on Facebook, promising warfare on LAPD officers and their families for what he believed was his unjustified firing. Dorner, who lived with his mother in La Palma, was later involved in a shootout with Los Angeles police guarding an officer's home in Corona, leaving one officer with a graze wound to the head. About 20 minutes later, he fired on a pair of Riverside police officers stopped at a red light, killing Officer Michael Crain and wounding the other.

San Bernardino County sheriff's Detective Jeremiah MacKay was fatally shot during the gun battle with Dorner at the cabin.

Heltebrake's suit, filed in April 2013, maintained he was entitled to all of the more than $1 million in multi-agency rewards because his 911 call put authorities on the trail that eventually led to Dorner.

The legal tangle over the reward was further complicated by a May 2013 decision of a panel of three retired judges appointed to make a final determination about the money. In dividing up the reward money, the retired judges decided Heltebrake was entitled to nothing.

In his rulings, Fahey said he asked the attorneys during a hearing a month before his decision whether there actually ever was any evidence that then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa publicly said there was a $1 million reward for Dorner's capture.

"The parties agreed that no such evidence was before the court," Fahey wrote.

The City Council offered a $100,000 reward for Dorner's capture in February 2013 and the procedures for making a claim were posted on the Los Angeles Police Department's website, Fahey wrote.

"It is undisputed that plaintiff did not submit a claim in accordance with these procedures," according to Fahey.

The city of Irvine contributed $100,000 to the reward fund, but Heltebrake did not follow the steps for presenting a claim even though Mayor Steven Choi sent a letter to the plaintiff's attorney explaining the process, Fahey wrote.

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors heard Heltebrake's reward request, but declined to give him any reward money, basing its decision in part on the recommendations of the three-judge reward panel, Fahey said.

"This court has concluded that there was nothing illegal or constitutional about the formation of the three-judge panel or as to their procedures and recommendations," Fahey wrote.

Richards, Watson & Gershon agreed to hold the reward monies in escrow and then distribute them as directed, but did not contribute any funds or create the reward process, Fahey said.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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