A Torrance police officer made a “reasonable mistake” when he shot at a Redondo Beach surfer during the chaotic manhunt for rogue Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner last year and will not face criminal charges, the District Attorney’s Office said in a report released last week.
Officer Brian McGee acted in “an atmosphere of fear and extreme anticipation” when he purposely rammed David Perdue’s pickup truck and fired at least three shots at him on Feb. 7, 2013, mistakenly believing Dorner was at the wheel. The bullets missed Perdue, who has filed a lawsuit against the city of Torrance.
“McGee’s belief that Dorner was driving the truck was reasonable,” prosecutors said in ruling the shooting was justified.
Perdue’s attorney, Robert Sheahen, greeted the decision with disbelief. He called it “nonsense.”
“Being anxious and afraid does not justify attempting to execute a man on his way to go surfing,” Sheahen said. “It’s gibberish from the D.A.’s office covering up the buffoonery of the Torrance police.”
Just as Torrance Police Chief John Neu did after the shooting, the District Attorney’s Office report blamed the shooting on the “totality of circumstances,” which included McGee’s knowledge of the threats Dorner made against officers and their families, and the fact he had already killed a young couple in Irvine and shot two police officers, killing one.
“Those circumstances created a situation in which a reasonable mistake of fact, namely that Dorner was driving the truck, nearly resulted in a horrific tragedy,” the report said.
McGee rammed Perdue’s truck on Flagler Lane about 5 that morning, suspecting it was Dorner fleeing from a shooting involving Los Angeles police officers around the block on Redbeam Avenue.
Perdue was on his way to pick up a friend to go surfing when, nearby, eight Los Angeles police officers opened fire on two newspaper carriers they mistakenly believed was Dorner arriving at the home of a Los Angeles police official on Dorner’s target list.
Nobody that morning knew where Dorner was. To that point, he had killed an LAPD officer’s daughter and her boyfriend in Irvine and had written an online manifesto saying he planned to kill family members of other officials involved in firing him from the force in 2009.
About 90 minutes before the gunfire in Torrance, Dorner shot two Riverside County police officers, killing one.
According to the D.A.’s report, McGee and his partner, Erin Sooper, attended a briefing that day where officers discussed Dorner. A lieutenant passed out Dorner’s photograph and copies of his manifesto, told them about the killings in Irvine, informed them that an LAPD captain named in Dorner’s writings lived on Redbeam, and that Dorner had been seen there a day or two earlier.
Officers were given a description of his Nissan Titan pickup truck, were told of his weapons training, and discussed tactics of what to do if they encountered him.
“McGee was aware that Dorner had threatened to kill any law enforcement officers who interfered with his plan to exact revenge on those named in the manifesto,” the report said. “McGee and Sooper came away from the briefing believing that an encounter with Dorner would result in either their own, or Dorner’s, death.”
During their shift, McGee and Sooper monitored radio traffic for updates on Dorner, watched news reports about the shootings of the officers in Corona and Riverside, and read portions of the manifesto out loud. They stopped at the Redbeam address, where LAPD officers told them they expected to see Dorner.
This put McGee and Sooper on “heightened alert,” anticipating a shoot-out with Dorner, who McGee said was ‘dedicated to killing people,’ ” the report said.
About 4:45 a.m., a Los Angeles police sergeant in charge of the security team on Redbeam called Torrance to report that a Culver City police officer had spotted Dorner’s truck coming off the 105 Freeway. Hawthorne police received a similar call.
McGee and Sooper then positioned themselves to monitor traffic on Flagler, just outside where the LAPD captain lived. Two other officers, Brent Clissold and Daniel Cid, were parked down the street. El Segundo police put out another report that a truck matching Dorner’s just exited the 105.
“McGee was certain that Dorner was traveling to Redbeam to kill the LAPD captain,” the report said. McGee and Sooper decided they would ram his truck if he showed up.
Both officers then heard gunshots. It sounded like a gunbattle McGee experienced while serving in Iraq. Sooper yelled, “Go! Go! Go!” Clissold yelled over the radio, “We have shots fired!” McGee heard the tension and believed the Torrance officers nearby were in a shoot-out with Dorner.
In reality, the LAPD officers on Redbeam were shooting at two newspaper carriers they mistook for Dorner.
McGee told investigators he believed “the guy is here and the fight is on. He’s killing people and I need to get there.”
At that point, Perdue drove into his path. Perdue, the report said, had just attempted to turn onto Towers Street from Flagler, but was stopped by two Torrance officers and told to turn around. As he headed toward Beryl Street, McGee and Sooper headed toward him just as the LAPD’s shots rang out.
“I come around the corner and this black vehicle is coming. ... I mean and my heart literally sank and I thought my buddies had just got killed,” the report said.
Sooper told investigators they were driving toward each other head-on.
“Sooper yelled, ‘That’s it, that’s it! Ram it, ram it, ram it!” the report said. McGee steered toward Perdue’s truck and slammed into. McGee was dazed in the collision, finding himself just 20 feet from the truck. His door would not open.
McGee told investigators he was “panicking inside, thinking if I don’t get out of this car seat, I’m gonna die. He’s gonna kill me. He’s gonna shoot me. I 100 percent believe it’s him.”
McGee said he heard more shots and believed they were from close range and coming at his head. Still panicking and not able to see movement in Perdue’s truck, McGee forced open his door and fired three shots through the driver’s side window of the truck. The bullets missed Perdue, who yelled an obscenity and “You’re shooting at me!”
The officer then realized his mistake. Dorner was black. Perdue was white. McGee asked if Perdue was all right.
The report said McGee’s own audio recorder heard him tell Perdue, “This guy’s killing cops. He’s there to kill more. He’s killed one in Riverside, killed a couple in Irvine, he’s got a rifle, he’s military trained.”
Other officers arrive and said, “You’ve got the wrong guy. It’s the wrong truck.”
Although the report said Sooper got Perdue out of his truck, it does not mention throwing him to the ground as Perdue’s attorney alleges. Perdue alleges his injuries from the shooting and aftermath were so serious he cannot work.
The D.A.’s report concluded that McGee was “forced to make a split-second decision to take action based on a rapidly evolving situation.” Based on the circumstances, McGee was justified in ramming the truck and shooting at Perdue, it said.
“Although mistaken, McGee honestly and reasonably believed that Dorner was driving the truck and had just shot Clissold and Cid,” the report said.
Sheahen said district attorney’s investigators never questioned Perdue and that the decision not to file charges was based entirely on Torrance’s own reports. He said prosecutors “went out of their way to whitewash this and say it was justified.”
“They made findings of fact without questioning witnesses,” he said. “They just ignored any facts that were contrary to the preconceived notion that these officers should not be prosecuted.”
Sheahen said the shooting was not referred to an independent prosecutor and that the D.A.’s office accepted McGee’s and Sooper’s accounts at face value. He called their accounts “riddled with factual fantasy.”
“It was only the poor marksmanship of Torrance officer Brian McGee that led to Mr. Perdue being alive today,” Sheahen said.
Perdue’s federal lawsuit is scheduled for trial on Aug. 12. Settlement talks proved unsuccessful.
Torrance police Sgt. Robert Watt said department officials have reviewed the D.A.’s report.
“In light of the comprehensive analysis contained within this document and the ongoing administrative review, the city of Torrance has nothing further to add at this time,” he said.
Dorner was killed in a gunbattle with San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies in Big Bear on Feb. 12. Another deputy was killed in the gunfight. Dorner reportedly took his own life.