Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, December 31, 2015


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In Action Against City of Riverside:

No Reward for Man Who Told of Dorner’s Whereabouts, Court of Appeal Rules


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A man who claims that his tip to a deputy sheriff led to the demise of killer Christopher Dorner in a standoff with law enforcement officers is not entitled to the $100,000 reward offered by the City of Riverside, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.

During his Feb. 3-12, 2013, rampage, Dorner—intensely bitter over being fired as Los Angeles police officer—fatally shot four persons and wounded three others. A manhunt eventually led to the encirclement of the cabin in San Bernardino, near Big Bear Lake, where he was hiding, with Dorner either committing suicide or burning to death after pyrotechnic tear gas canisters were shot into the cabin to drive him out, causing an unintended blaze.

Plaintiff Richard Heltebrake, a youth camp worker in San Bernardino, claimed he “notified law enforcement” of Dorner’s whereabouts on the day the events came to a climax. Dorner had forced Heltebrake, at gunpoint, to relinquish to him possession of his truck—which Heltebrake reported, by telephone, to a San Bernardino deputy sheriff, describing the truck, telling of his location, and the direction in which Dorner was headed.

While the phone conversation was in progress, gunshots were heard. As it turned out, those shots were fired in connection with a confrontation between Fish and Wildlife Department officers and Dorner.

Press Conference Announcement

Heltebrake insists he is entitled to the $1 million reward announced on Feb. 10, 2013, by then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and others at a televised press conference, as well as $100,000 offered by the City of Irvine, and $100,000 from the City of Riverside.

Tuesday’s Court of Appeal opinion, which was not certified for publication, deals only with Heltebrake’s claim against the City of Riverside, which gained a judgment of dismissal following the sustaining of a demurrer without leave to amend.

Of the $1 million offered by the city, $886,000 was paid out in 2013, divided among four persons. Receiving the lion’s share—$708,800—were Jim and Karen Reynolds who encountered Dorner in their San Bernardino cabin, were tied up and gagged by him, and escaped, alerting authorities to his whereabouts.

The full $1 million was not distributed because some entities—including the City of Riverside—did not place the sums they had pledged unto the pot, reasoning that the reward was for information leading to the “conviction” of Dorner, and he was not convicted. That city was sued based on its city council having adopted a resolution “offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the murder of Riverside Police Officer Michael Crain and the assault of his partner officer while the officers were acting in the line of duty.”

One of the city’s attorneys, Timothy T. Coates, noted yesterday that “the other defendants…participated in the reward pool, whereas our client did not.”

Opinion by Turner

The majority opinion, by Presiding Justice Paul Turner of Div. Five, affirms a decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Elizabeth Allen White. Justice Richard Mosk dissented.

Turner, joined by Justice Sandy Kriegler, said that Heltebrake’s breach-of-contract claims, based on a failure to pay the reward to him, were forfeited. He explained, in his unpublished opinion:

“The opening brief contains three pages of analysis concerning defendant. The opening brief identifies the applicable standard or review; identifies in a brief paragraph the facts directly relevant to defendant; and then engages in the following argument concerning two of the causes of action, ‘Thus, the basic core facts to state valid claims for breach of contract and violation of his civil rights was plead as to the City of Riverside.’ ”

He said a cause of action for declaratory relief was supported merely by one sentence in which a single case was cited.

Turner wrote:

“Defendant argues that the foregoing truncated briefing is insufficient to preserve plaintiff’s contract based claims for review. We agree with defendant. All of plaintiff’s contract based claims which are being pursued against a public entity have been forfeited.”

Heltebrake also challenged procedures set up by the City of Los Angeles for determining who would receive what part of the award—requiring relinquishment of certain rights by claimants. Turner pointed out that the City of Riverside “is not a party to the alleged unconstitutional claims process utilized by the City of Los Angeles.”

He declared:

“[T]he first amended complaint makes no non-conclusory allegations as to defendant’s procedures.  In fact, defendant’s procedures are not even discussed in the first amended complaint. Plaintiff is pursuing what is in essence a facial challenge to unspecified provisions of the unalleged procedures established by defendant.”

Mosk’s Dissent

Mosk, in his dissent, argued:

“We have discretion to consider issues not properly raised in an appellant’s opening brief.”

He said:

“…I would only hold that under the applicable standards, plaintiff has stated facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action.  I express no opinion on the merits of the case.”

The case is Heltebrake v. City of Riverside, B254132.

Allen L. Thomas, Sivi G. Pederson and Gordon C. Stuart of Long Beach’s Thomas Law Firm Incorporated represented Heltebrake. Arguing for the city were Deputy Riverside City Attorney Gregg M. Gu and Coates. Along with Alana H. Rotter, of the Los Angeles appellate law firm of Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland LLP.

Coates said it is unclear to what extent the opinion might benefit the remaining defendants.

Thomas commented yesterday:

“The Court of Appeal pays lip service to California law that allows for liberal pleadings and favor trial on the merits.  The Court has adopted City of Riverside’s effort to weasel out of paying their Dorner reward money.  Richard Heltebrake reported the whereabouts of Christopher Dorner to law enforcement and was instrumental in Dorner’s apprehension.”

He added:

“Mr. Heltebrake looks forward to his day in court to establish his right to the Dorner reward money.”

Previous Decision

This marked the second time Div. Five took a look at the litigation, in progress. On Aug. 11, in an unpublished opinion, it reversed a grant by White of anti-SLAPP motion by the City of Los Angeles and the County of Riverside.

Thomas termed that “a huge defeat” for those defendants. 

The motion with respect to the City of Los Angeles was based on the contention that the defendant engaged in protected speech when the reward was announced by Villaraigosa at a press conference and when procedures for determining the recipients of the award were made public. Writing for a unanimous panel, Mosk said:

“Even if the conduct referred to by the City of Los Angeles are protected activities, the City of Los Angeles has the burden to establish that plaintiff’s claims ‘arise from’ those protected activities….The City of Los Angeles has not established that plaintiff’s claims, premised on the alleged breach of contract by the City of Los Angeles, arise from a protected act.”

Mosk went on to say:

“The County of Riverside’s adoption of the Procedures and denying plaintiff’s request for reward funds do not constitute an exercise of the county’s rights to speech or petition. If they did, virtually any challenge to governmental activity would be subject to the anti-SLAPP statute, which would be an absurd extension of its reach.”

In a separate opinion that day, Mosk wrote for the panel in saying that Heltebrake’s appeal of an award of attorney fees to the City of Riverside was moot in light of the reversal of the judgment pursuant to the anti-SLAPP motion.

The next hearing in the case before White is slated for Jan. 25.


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