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

Riverside County solar fee: Where has $1.2 million gone?

Construction workers at the Desert Sunlight solar project connect wiring to photovoltaic solar panels at the 550-megawatt project near Desert Center. (Courtesy of Desert Sunlight)

Construction workers at the Desert Sunlight solar project connect wiring to photovoltaic solar panels at the 550-megawatt project near Desert Center. (Courtesy of Desert Sunlight)

Riverside County’s $450-per-acre fee on large-scale solar projects, has netted $1.2 million from the 550-megawatt photovoltaic plant now being built near Desert Center.

When the fee was passed a year ago, Supervisor John J. Benoit pledged that most of the money would go to affected communities, but iSun reporter K Kaufmann found out where the money is going instead.

Read her Sunday report: Towns burned in county solar fee shift

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.

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 PalmDesertStation@RiversideSheriff.org. 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.