At some point, a price tag will be attached to the horror that fell upon three completely innocent people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The question is whether a legal fight will be necessary to sort out how much money they deserve for coming under gunfire from police officers who thought they were shooting at cop killer Christopher Dorner.

Two of the victims - newspaper carriers on their morning rounds - were wounded by Los Angeles police officers. A third was narrowly missed by a Torrance officer.

"My expectation is the city (of Los Angeles) will do the right thing and resolve it," said attorney Glen T. Jonas, who represents the women carriers shot Feb. 7 on Redbeam Avenue in Torrance. "We're not going to get into numbers right now. When the people who are supposed to protect you do their best to kill you, that's going to require a lot of compensation."

One carrier, 71-year-old Emma Hernandez, was wounded twice in the back in the shooting that involved seven Los Angeles officers and possibly more than 100 bullets.

Surfer David Perdue of Redondo Beach was fortunate that a Torrance officer missed when she fired into his truck cab moments later as he headed toward the beach.

But were the police justified in their reactions, believing at the time that Dorner was in front of them?

"The fact that two such shootings occurred about the same time, I think, supports my belief from limited information that these officers honestly believed they were confronting Dorner and were in fear for their lives," said Tom Mahoney, a former South Pasadena police chief. "There is also no doubt in my mind that these officers are regretful that they fired on innocent people."

Thomas Beck, an attorney who has represented several clients in misconduct lawsuits against law enforcement agencies, said the officers never should have fired their weapons.

"Those two women came within an inch of their lives," Beck said. "The officers violated every single recognized deadly force rule that exists. They can't fire into the back of a vehicle without a warning, without some suggestion that the person they are shooting at is threatening them."

The back-to-back shootings occurred as undercover Los Angeles police officers fanned out across Southern California to protect officers' families who were potential targets for Dorner, a former LAPD patrol officer seeking revenge for his firing from the force.

By early that morning, Dorner was suspected of killing one captain's daughter and her fiance in Irvine and shooting three police officers in Riverside County, killing one. Police described him as driving a blue Nissan Titan pickup and urged the public to be on the lookout.

Less than 90 minutes after the Riverside officer was shot, Hernandez and her daughter, Margie Carranza, 47, rolled onto the 19500 block of Redbeam to deliver the Los Angeles Times. They reportedly had their lights off.

Seven undercover Los Angeles police officers protecting an LAPD captain who lived on the street began shooting, riddling the truck with bullets. Hernandez was shot twice in the back, but survived.

Torrance police officers stationed nearby heard the gunshots and headed toward them. That's where Perdue appeared in his dark pickup truck as he headed to the beach. Torrance officers, suspecting he was Dorner, collided with the truck and started shooting. Fortunately, the bullets missed.

The women and Perdue immediately hired lawyers. Jonas, who represents the women, accused Los Angeles police officers of committing "street justice," violating protocols for use of force. Todd Thibodo, who represents Perdue, accused Torrance officers of violent and reckless behavior.

Police Chief Charlie Beck quickly apologized and said his department would buy a new truck for the women.

Jonas said that won't be enough, but credited Beck with a "nice gesture." Jonas said he will file a lawsuit only if necessary. Lawsuits, he said, are to resolve disputes and, right now, one does not exist. But it could.

"It's appreciated," Jonas said. "In fairness to the chief, he has a lot of issues he's dealing with. I thought it was commendable to deal with this issue. He is a good chief."

If the cases go to court, evidence would likely center on what officers were thinking before they fired their weapons, Mahoney said.

"Without knowing all the details about these two incidents, if I were the OIS investigator, I would be questioning the officers about what information they had received from the police dispatchers or other official sources: How close to Dorner's shooting of the two police officers in time and location did these shootings occur? What specific information did the officers have that drew their attention to the vehicles that were shot? What specific behavior by these drivers/occupants led them to believe that they might be dealing with a violent, dangerous felon?" said Mahoney, who investigated officer-involved shootings when he worked for the Culver City Police Department.

The former chief, now co-chairman of the Administration of Justice Department at Santa Barbara City College, said the fact that the two shootings occurred about the same time supports his belief that the officers honestly believed they were confronting Dorner.

Mahoney, who recalls being on patrol late at night just after a police officer was shot, said officers can feel "a sort of hyper vigilance" that affects their perception of danger.

"It's a survival instinct," he said. "When you combine this hyper vigilance with the information that the officers had about the suspect's vehicle, plus the time, place and the behavior of the vehicle's drivers, the potential for violence was increased."

Attorney Beck said nothing should excuse officers for either shooting and said the killing of the police officer in Riverside County should make no difference for what happened in Torrance.

"How does that weigh into anything?" he said. "The shooting was in another county."

Jonas said adrenaline is a part of an officer's job, one they are trained to cope with.

His clients, Jonas said, continue to recover physically, but are having a difficult time emotionally from something that should never have happened.

"The color doesn't match. The model doesn't match. The make doesn't match. The gender doesn't match. The race doesn't match. The height and weight don't match. You just wanted to be a hero. You just wanted to execute somebody.' That would be the response if I did it," Jonas said.

Mahoney said he has no doubt that the officers are upset by their actions and probably will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

He said it will be up to their departments to determine if the officers "acted properly given the circumstances and the split-seconds they had to make their decisions."

"Today's police officers are highly trained, especially with regard to the use of firearms," he said. "But they are still human beings, and human beings do make errors."

larry.altman@dailybreeze.com

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