One-year anniversary of deadly OPD shootings

March 19, 2010 10:10:43 AM PDT
March 21, 2010 marks the one-year anniversary of the day four Oakland police officers were killed in the line of duty. Many changes have been made in the department since then, and still, there are many more in the works.

It was a sunny afternoon in East Oakland one year ago -- two motorcycle officers on a routine traffic stop approach the driver side door and they have no time to react. Lovelle Mixon, a wanted parolee intent on not going back to prison, leans out of the window and shoots each officer twice.

Mixon then walks over and shoots them in the back, killing Sgt. Mark Dunakin, a member of the motorcycle drill team and father, and Ofc. John Hege, whose organs after his death gave four others a second chance at life.

Twenty-six-year-old Mixon runs around the corner and hides in his sister's apartment; without knowing what waits inside, police begin the manhunt.

Assistant Chief Howard Jordan was Oakland's acting police chief at the time. In a rare sit-down interview, he remembered the day. He had just arrived at the police substation in East Oakland and was on the phone discussing how to break the news to Dunakin's family.

"That's when I heard on the radio and I was a block away; I heard the other gunshots," recalled Jordan.

The SWAT team storms the dark apartment, but Mixon fires an assault rifle from inside a bedroom closet. Sgt. Erv Romans, a father and medal of valor recipient, is immediately shot and killed. Next, Sgt. Daniel Sakai, also a dad and valedictorian of his academy class.

Even a year later, there are two things from that day Jordan can't shake from his mind.

"Mark Dunakin laying [sic] on the side and the sound effects from the apartment building where the other officers get killed," he said.

The rest of the SWAT team fires back until Mixon is dead.

"Lovelle Mixon chose the path here and he's the one person that's responsible for all this," said Jordan.

In the months that followed, Oakland police faced harsh criticism for rushing into that building.

A report by an independent panel of law enforcement experts criticized the Oakland Police Department's top brass for what happened on March 21. It said the scene in East Oakland was chaotic and disorganized. So far, the department has only implemented half of the report's 24 recommendations.

University of San Francisco criminal justice institute director Tony Ribera says police must be ready for the worst-case scenario every day. He knows from experience. He was San Francisco's police chief in 1993 when a gunman killed eight people at 101 California Street. His department was criticized for being unprepared.

"One of the things that clearly you want to take out of the scenario is emotion," said Ribera. "Planned structure, that gives us an advantage over the bad guys."

In the wake of Oakland's shooting, some members of the command staff are facing demotion. Now, all commanders, not just SWAT team leaders, study crisis management. Officers are being retrained in building searches and traffic stops.

Police say a recent East Oakland standoff where the SWAT team evacuated a neighborhood and residents complained of being kept out of their homes for most of the day, reflects a new patient approach.

"We don't want this to happen again, so we're going to do whatever we can do, training, whatever cost it is to ensure that our department is prepared," said Jordan.

Prepared so that what became the deadliest day in the history of the Oakland Police Department, never happens again.


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