Sheriff’s deputies who believed they had cornered a fugitive ex-cop in the mountains above Los Angeles did not purposely torch a cabin where a nine-day manhunt ended, but the deputies may have ignited the blaze by firing tear gas, officials said on Wednesday.
Former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner, 33, was wanted in a killing spree targeting law enforcement officers that left four people dead.
A man matching his description was surrounded inside a lodging nestled in the San Bernardino National Forest on Tuesday.
“We did not intentionally burn down that cabin to get Mr Dorner out,” San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said at an afternoon press conference.
Investigators had not yet formally identified charred remains found in the burned-out structure, although they are believed to be those of Dorner.
“The suspect that we were following ... matched his description,” McMahon said.
“Our coroner’s division is working on trying to confirm the identity through forensics and we should know that at some point here soon,” he said.
Dorner lost his job with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in 2008 after a police board of inquiry found he lied in accusing a training officer of using excessive force against a homeless man.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has opened a review of that case.
On Feb. 6, Dorner was named as the prime suspect in a double slaying that occurred the weekend before, about 64km south of Los Angeles in Irvine.
Police say he killed a university security officer and his fiancee, the 28-year-old daughter of a retired LAPD captain who represented Dorner in disciplinary action that led to his termination.
The search intensified on Thursday last week after he was accused of killing a Riverside policeman and wounding another officer in an ambush about 100km east of Los Angeles.
Law enforcement converged later that day in the San Bernardino Mountains after a pickup truck identified as Dorner’s was found abandoned and burning in the snow near the ski resort community of Big Bear Lake northeast of Los Angeles.
The ensuing manhunt, which stretched all the way from the desert north of the mountains to the Mexican border, was described by Beck as the region’s most extensive ever.
It ended on Tuesday following a shootout at the cabin that saw the slaying of San Bernardino Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremiah MacKay, 35, a married father of two young children, and the wounding of another deputy.