Chris Dorner manhunt: Riverside police officer second killed in California this year

Desert Sun file photo from May 2008 of a mourning badge on a Cathedral City police officer.

A Riverside police officer was killed Thursday, and a second one wounded, when police say they were ambushed at a stop light.

Thousands of police officers flooded into Southern California and Nevada looking for the suspected gunman, identified as former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner. He’s also named as the suspected gunman in two deaths in Irvine on Sunday.

The killed officer, who police have not identified publicly, was the second  officer to be shot to death in California this year.

Galt Police Officer Kevin A. Tonn, 35, was killed Jan. 15 when he was responding to a burglary call.

The Riverside police officer’s death brings the total number of officers killed in California history to 1,535.

That figure is higher than the entire populations of 20 different cities or towns in California.

U.S. law enforcement death and assault reports by the numbers:* 

  • Ten officers have been killed in the line of duty in the U.S. this year (a 52 percent drop from the same time period last year).
  • An average of 156 officers are killed per year in the U.S.
  • An average of 58,261 officers are assaulted each year.

In honor of the Riverside police officer, Riverside County has ordered flags be flown at half-staff until Thursday, Feb. 14.

There will be a prayer vigil outside Riverside City Hall at 6 p.m. (Thursday, Feb. 7.)

* Sources: Officer Down Memorial Page and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund

1 out of 5 arrested is someone on parole or probation, California study finds

Desert Sun file photo

One out of every five people arrested is on parole or probation — a lower number than law enforcement expected — according to a newly published study.

Researchers examined to what extent people on parole or probation contribute to crime (as measured by arrests).

They used data from Los Angeles, Redlands, Sacramento and San Francisco police over more than three years, ending in June 2011.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization based in Kentucky, found:

  • The majority of adult felony and misdemeanor arrests (77%) involved people who were not under supervision.
  • When looking only at drug violations, one out of every three people arrested was on probation or parole.
  • Total arrests fell by 18 percent. Meanwhile, the number parolees arrested fell 61 percent, and people on probation declined 26 percent.

The data shows there’s a “small fraction” of parolees who are “contributing disproportionately to drug-related crime,” Redlands Police Chief Mark Garcia said this week in a news statement about the study.

As a whole, though, Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel said:

“Our assumption has been that people under probation and parole were driving our arrest activity, but the data suggests otherwise,” he said.

“This new information opens up opportunities for law enforcement agencies, which are grappling with huge budget cuts, to work with partners in probation and parole to be more efficient and targeted in our prevention, intervention, and enforcement efforts.”

The study was paid for by the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Fund for Nonviolence and the Rosenberg Foundation.



Coachella Valley police use of force: How your department ranks

A SWAT team practiced at Palm Desert High School in July 2011 in this file photo (Richard Lui, The Desert Sun).

The Desert Sun ran a nearly four-page special investigation Sunday examining Coachella Valley police use of force:

Story: Coachella Valley use-of-force reports drop, but four deadly shootings ties record

Graphic: A closer look at use-of-force reports

Valley police shot seven people in confrontations in 2012, four of them deadly.

So far this year, valley police have shot two people. Palm Springs police shot a man Jan. 9 after they say he ran into three officers with a car. Three Indio police officers shot a man late Monday.

Nationwide, officers used force in 3.6 out of every 10,000 calls over a two-year period, according to the last-known comprehensive national study, published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 2001.

Here’s how your police department ranks for use of force — batons, dog bites, pepper spray, physical force, shootings, Tasers — according to The Desert Sun’s analysis of their data:


  • Palm Springs: 28 uses of force (4.36 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Indio: 21 uses of force (3.23 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Desert Hot Springs: 10 uses of force (2.87 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Cathedral City: 3 uses of force (0.68 times per 10,000 calls)


  • Indio: 31 uses of force (4.39 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Palm Springs: 22 uses of force (3.44 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Cathedral City: 9 uses of force (1.95 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Desert Hot Springs: 6 uses of force (1.67 times per 10,000 calls)


  • Indio: 35 uses of force (4.97 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Palm Springs: 28 uses of force (3.9 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Desert Hot Springs: 7 uses of force (1.72 times per 10,000 calls)
  • Cathedral City: 8 uses of force (1.57 times per 10,000 calls)


The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department — which oversees police services in Coachella, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage — could not provide comparable data.

After repeated requests, it gave The Desert Sun its data on shootings and dog bites, as well as stun gun use for January through August 2012 only.

The sheriff’s department does not track its deputies’ other force, including baton usage, pepper spray or physical force.

Grant Virgin: Why John and JJ Virgin share their son’s story

Before I walked into Grant Virgin’s hospital room for the first time, the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles media director called me.

Grant is not in your typical hospital room, he told me, warning me about the Posey bed — a tent-like cover that can be zipped up and clipped closed for his own security and for those around him.

I had reported on Grant’s injuries since Sept. 10, the night he was struck by a car in a hit and run in Palm Desert.

The 16-year-old’s bones were broken from head to toe, his aorta was crushed and his brain was rocked inside his head. He should have died.

I thought I was prepared to see him.

But actually walking into Grant’s hospital room — seeing the scar on his head,  watching his labored movements and sensing his exhaustion – was a different experience.

It sunk in how much this young man’s life was derailed by only a second or two one warm fall evening. It made my heart hurt for him.

His parents, John and JJ Virgin, agreed to let a reporter, photographer and videographer share their family’s story.

(story, photos, videos from inside his hospital room) 
(how many, why and what our lawmakers have to say about it) 


They opened the door for the community to see the heartbreak of Grant’s crash, their unwavering belief in integrative medicine and their differing opinions on the hit-and-run driver who altered the course of all their lives.

Most of all, they told me, they’re grateful to a community that has supported Grant’s journey. That’s what has kept their faith in the goodness of people.

But this is only the beginning of a different life for Grant, his parents and his younger brother, Bryce.

And it is only the start of our questions for lawmakers, police and state leaders about how we can create a better system that will help find justice for Grant and thousands of other hit-and-run victims.

How to help: 

Palm Desert police asked anyone with information about Grant’s crash to call (760) 836-1600Coachella Valley Crime Stoppers collects anonymous tips at (760) 341-7867.

The Virgin family is also accepting donations to help cover Grant’s medical expenses via Paypal (

Riverside County jails break record of 6,001 inmates released early

Riverside County jails have released a record number of inmates early this year and prepared Wednesday to send more inmates out the door early.

So far this year, 6,183 inmates have been released early countywide due to overcrowding. That surpasses the county record for most inmates ever released in one year — 6,001 inmates in 2007.

“It’s not something we brag about,” Chief Deputy Raymond Gregory told my colleague Erica Felci. “It shows the mass of this huge crisis.”

There are 3,906 beds countywide.

All 353 beds at the jail in Indio were filled this morning, and Gregory was working on a plan late Wednesday morning about which inmates would be released early if the jail is overcrowded tonight.

“It kind of shows that we don’t nearly have the correct size for the activity we have in Riverside County,” said Gregory, who oversees jails for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

The Supreme Court has given the state until June 2013 to reduce its prison population by about 33,000 inmates. The state has warned it does not expect to meet that deadline.

To make matters worse, the already overcrowded county jails now must house most felons — except for those jailed for a serious, sex or violent crime — who previously would have been sent to state prison.

The state Legislature handed that responsibility to counties last year as part of a broader state budget plan to close a $26.6 billion gap.

Sheriff Stan Sniff has repeatedly warned that Riverside County jails, like many across the state, would be “overwhelmed” by the burden of housing felons.

“The system is so overloaded. We’re not close. We’re way, way, behind. That’s what’s added to our misery, when you’re seeing some terrible surges in crime,” Sniff previously told us.


Related story: Gov. Jerry Brown has also battled a federal court order to lay out a timetable for reducing the nation’s worst prison overcrowding. See more here.

One in seven drivers has drugs in their system, California Office of Traffic Safety finds

One in every seven weekend drivers had drugs in their system, according to the first-ever statewide survey of alcohol and drugs in drivers.

The California Office of Traffic Safety announced its survey results Monday. It concluded 14 percent of drivers tested positive for drugs, nearly double the 7.3 percent of drivers who had alcohol in their system.

About half the drugs — 7.4 percent of drivers, or just more than those with alcohol — were marijuana, while 4.6 percent of drivers tested positive for prescription or over-the-counter medications that can impair driving.

“Drug-impaired driving is often under-reported and under-recognized and toxicology testing is expensive,” the state agency wrote in a press release, which continues:

“This federally funded survey is the first of its kind ever undertaken by a state,” said Christopher J. Murphy, Director of the Office of Traffic Safety. “These results reinforce our belief that driving after consuming potentially impairing drugs is a serious and growing problem.”

It’s important to note that the OTS campaigns for drugged driving to receive the same national attention drunk driving does, and that the results came from drivers who voluntarily agreed to be tested.

More than 1,300 drivers agreed to provide breath and/or saliva samples at roadside locations. They were set up in nine unspecified California cities between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

Under a new law, the specific kinds of DUI — alcohol, drugs or some combination of the two — will be categorized under separate violations, meaning it will be easier to track DUI arrests.

Marijuana arrests happen every 42 seconds, analysis of FBI data shows

A total 12,408,899 people were arrested last year — with one marijuana-related arrest every 42 seconds, according to analysis of FBI statistics released last week.

The No. 1 arrest charge in the U.S. was drug abuse violations. More than 81 percent of the 1,531,251  arrests stemmed from possession, while the remainder were for sales and manufacturing.

Marijuana possession made up 660,000 arrests, or or 43.3 percent of all arrests under the drug abuse violations category.

Counting all drugs, not just marijuana, police made one drug arrest every 21 seconds, according to analysis from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit group  comprised mostly of law enforcement, judges and prosecutors.

“Even excluding the costs involved for later trying and then imprisoning these people, taxpayers are spending between $1.5 – to $3 billion just on the police and court time involved in making these arrests,” said LEAP executive director Neill Franklin, a retired Baltimore narcotics officer.

Overall, the number of total arrests and the number of drug abuse arrests continues to drop annually. The top three arrest charges remained the same, though larceny-theft moved ahead of DUI arrests in 2011:

  1. Drug abuse violations: 1,531,251 arrests in 2011 (a 6.6 percent drop from 2010)
  2. Larceny-theft: 1,264,986 arrests (a 0.5 percent increase)
  3. Driving under the influence: 1,215,077 arrests (a 14 percent decrease)

See the 2011 nationwide arrest data here. See the data broken down by state here. See more analysis of the data from the FBI here.

Fewer marijuana plants seized in California than last year

Law enforcement are on pace to seize far fewer marijuana plants in California this year than last year — the second consecutive decline.

California Watch, a nonprofit reporting group, summed up the figures as the end of marijuana growing season approaches:

The latest figures show that local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are on track to eradicate an estimated 1.5 million plants from outdoor gardens – mostly on public land – down from a decade high of about 7.3 million plants in 2009.

This year’s seizures would be the lowest since 2004, when a little more than 1.1 million plants were eradicated, according to Drug Enforcement Administration statistics.

The report attributes the drop to a variety of factors, including an effort to prosecute growers and a federal crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries.

Some say growers have moved out of state (to places like Nevada, North Carolina or Wisconsin), to smaller garden plots on private land or underground.


How much would marijuana be worth if it was legalized? See our previous report here.

Palm Desert police field few tips in Grant Virgin’s hit-and-run crash

More than a week after 16-year-old Grant Virgin was critically injured, Palm Desert police have fielded only three tips about the hit-and-run crash.

None of the tips have panned out so far, Lt. Bill Sullivan told my colleague Sherry Barkas today.

The Palm Desert High School junior was walking toward a friend’s house when he was struck about 7:35 p.m. Sept. 10 at Deep Canyon Road and Fred Waring Drive in Palm Desert.

Several witnesses saw the driver get out of her car, survey the damage to her car and look at the boy lying in the road, Capt. Kevin Vest said. She then drove away. Other drivers called 911, blocked off the road and tried to help the teen.

Chances are high that hit-and-run drivers in a case like this will get away, police told us — unless someone can lead investigators to the car.


How Grant is doing

The crash caused devastating injuries to Grant, breaking bones from his skull to his heel and crushing his aorta. Only 10 percent of people with his kind of aorta damage survive the initial injury. Even fewer live past the ride to the hospital. Fewer yet survive the transfer to another hospital.

Grant remains hospitalized at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Doctors began easing the sedation Tuesday, hoping Grant will wake up in the next few days so they can reevaluate the injuries to his brain.

“Grant is trying to open his eyes. He will open them a sliver when you ask him,” his mom, JJ Virgin, wrote on her Facebook page this morning. She has been detailing his progress.

His parents have been overwhelmed by emails, Facebook messages, text messages and Tweets. Both say they regret they haven’t been able to respond to everyone, but are blown away by the support.

“Were it under different circumstances, I don’t know if I could handle the heartwarming,” his father, John, told me.

When I met with Grant’s dad last week, I asked what his family needs: “Prayer,” John said. “Prayers are powerful medicine.”

Read more of John’s interview here.


About the driver, her vehicle

Because of the time and location of the crash, Vest said the driver who hit Grant likely lives and works in the Coachella Valley.

Witnesses described her as a Hispanic woman, about 30 years old. She was about 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed about 150 pounds. She had black, shoulder-length hair.

The vehicle was a two-door, white car made in the early 2000s.

Palm Desert police ask anyone who knows anything about the crash, or has seen a similar vehicle with front-end damage, to call investigators at (760) 836-1000.

Anonymous tipsters can call Valley Crime Stoppers at (760) 341-7867 or email Refer to case T122540079.

Riverside County jails release 4,000 inmates early as state fights early releases

UPDATE: Riverside County has since broken its record of 6,001 inmates released early. See more here.

As Gov. Jerry Brown battles the federal court over when jails will determine their schedule for releasing inmates early, Riverside County is on pace to tie its all-time record for the number of early releases.

Riverside County jails have already released 4,000 inmates early this year, Sheriff Stan Sniff told us last week.

That means we could hit the record for most inmates ever released in one year — 6,001 inmates in 2007.

“The system is so overloaded. We’re not close. We’re way, way, behind. That’s what’s added to our misery, when you’re seeing some terrible surges in crime,” Sniff said.

The Supreme Court has given the state until June 2013 to reduce its prison population by about 33,000 inmates. The state has warned it does not expect to meet that deadline.

Jails across the state were supposed to decide this month when to schedule the early release of hundreds, if not thousands, of prison inmates.

The Aug. 17 deadline was imposed early this month by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the state has made insufficient progress in reducing the nation’s worst prison overcrowding.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration has protested the federal court order, calling the timetable unwarranted.

To make matters worse, the already overcrowded county jails now must house most felons — except for those jailed for a serious, sex or violent crime — who previously would have been sent to state prison.

The state Legislature handed that responsibility to counties last year as part of a broader state budget plan to close a $26.6 billion gap.

Nearly one year into the realignment law, California Watch — a nonprofit an investigative journalism group — examined how Fresno County and San Francisco are handling the unprecedented overhaul.

Fresno County jail population has shot up by 30 percent because of the realignment plan — one of the highest increases in the state, the group found:

Many county jails have limited facilities because they were designed for short stays. Fresno’s jail even faces a class-action lawsuit alleging poor medical care.

Still, some lower-level offenders are getting long sentences, only now, they have to serve them at the county jail. This inmate will spend five years locked in the oldest part of Fresno’s jail. Amy Granados has done time before, but in state prisons. She says that was pretty easy.