Chris Dorner Reward: Confusion About $1 Million Fund Fuels Several Claims

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CHRIS DORNER REWARD
An LAPD spokesman talks to reporters at a news conference in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. Police are now investigating more than 1,000 tips from the public in the search for Christopher Dorner, suspected of a deadly revenge plot against the Los Angeles Police Department. Neiman said the number of tips has grown from an initial 250 since the city offered a $1 million reward for information leading to the capture of Dorner. (AP Photo/Nick Ut) | AP

Figuring out the fate of $1 million, more or less, in reward money offered in the Christopher Dorner case has become nearly as convoluted as the week-long manhunt for him in February.

More than two months after Dorner's death by suicide following a violent confrontation with deputies, despite a newly announced joint reward process, even people involved can't or won't answer questions as basic as:

How much reward money is there?

Who has applied for it?

Who will decide who gets it?

When will it be awarded -- if ever?

Kirk Hallam, a lawyer for Jim and Karen Reynolds, said he has made five separate reward claims on their behalf. And he isn't sure when he'll know the results.

"It's created a unique kind of situation, but this was a unique situation to begin with," Hallam said.

The hurried nature of the initial reward offer, made in the midst of a crisis, might explain some of the ensuing confusion.

Dorner, a fired Los Angeles police officer, was accused of killing a young couple in Orange County on Feb. 3 as part of a vendetta against the LAPD. He also threatened to hunt down officers and their families, sparking a blanket of protective details and a massive manhunt across Southern California and beyond. He later killed a Riverside police officer and a San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy.

On Feb. 10, four days into the hunt, the mayors of Los Angeles, Irvine and Riverside, along with federal agents, announced a $1 million reward for Dorner's "apprehension and conviction," though they've since relaxed that standard.

For weeks after his death Feb. 12, no one seemed to know how or whether the money would be distributed.

In early April, public and private donors jointly announced a reward process: People had to apply by April 19, donors would put money in a trust account and a panel of three judges would decide who gets it. The Los Angeles Police Department would coordinate the process.

At last, it seemed, things were clear. Well, not so much.

Three jurisdictions offering $100,000 each require separate applications and won't necessarily go along with the judges' decision. Confusingly, they include the Los Angeles City Council, which will make its own decision even though the Los Angeles Police Department is coordinating the joint process.

By statute, elected lawmakers in the city of L.A. and the counties of L.A. and Riverside must vote on who gets the reward after recommendations from law enforcement and others. There's no schedule for when that will

happen. And they could also decide not to give money to anyone.

Who is seeking the money? The LAPD won't say.

Police said 11 people applied for the joint portion of the reward by Friday's deadline, but the LAPD refused to identify them.

L.A. County will accept claims until July 12 and said it has gotten three so far for its $100,000: from the Reynoldses, Rick Heltebrake and Daniel McGowan. McGowan called 911 after spotting Dorner's burned-out truck Feb. 7 in Big Bear. Heltebrake was carjacked by Dorner just before his final shootout with deputies. The Reynoldses owned the cabin where Dorner had been hiding out, and Karen Reynolds called 9-1-1 to report he had just fled in their SUV Feb. 12.

L.A. City Councilman Mitchell Englander, one of the sponsors of the city's $100,000 reward, said he thinks it should go to whoever is picked by the retired judges. But the full council will decide that, likely months from now.

An LAPD spokesman, Lt. Andrew Neiman, said he believed the votes are a formality because L.A. and Riverside counties "have agreed to what the judges are going to do. "

The counties say that's not true.

"There's no telling," said Ray Smith, a spokesman for the Riverside County CEO's office, "I wouldn't venture to guess whether the recommendation (from county officials) will be the same or different. "

In L.A. County, the Board of

Supervisors will make the call after advice from the CEO's office, county lawyers, the Sheriff's Department and others.

"We are not planning on using the judges," L.A. County CEO spokesman David Sommers said. "We are planning on using the internal process we use for ... any other reward. "

And how much money is at stake, anyway? The April 5 joint announcement doesn't mention a dollar figure.

Despite some of the initial 20-plus donors pulling out -- including the city of Riverside, which withdrew a $100,000 offer because Dorner won't be tried or convicted -- L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has promised the reward will be $1 million.

But does that include the $300,000 from the three jurisdictions that will make their own decisions? The LAPD's Neiman said it does. Peter Sanders, a spokesman for Villaraigosa, said he believed the $1 million was separate, meaning the total rewards could be $1.3 million.

Hallam, the Reynolds' lawyer, said no one had told him exactly how much money is out there.

"That part isn't so clear to me at all," he said. ___

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