On the afternoon of March 21, two veteran Oakland police officers, Officer John Hege (41) and Sergeant Mark Dunakin (40), stopped a vehicle being driven by 26-year-old Lovelle Mixon, a wanted parolee. It appears that the officers were unaware of Mixon's wanted status and returned to their motorcycles to run some checks. Mixon suddenly approached the officers, extended a handgun and shot both of them at close range, knocking them to the ground. After they fell, Mixon stood over the fallen officers and fired again, killing Dunakin and mortally wounding Hege.
Mixon fled the scene on foot, running about a block to an apartment where his 16-year-old sister was staying. As officers from multiple agencies arrived on scene, a witness directed them to the apartment. Less than an hour after the first shootings, the building was surrounded and tactical plans were being made. Shortly after 3 p.m., a tactical team using flash bangs entered the apartment. They were immediately met with devastating gunfire. Hiding in a closet, Mixon began spraying the apartment with deadly rounds from an AK-47. Three offi cers were hit. Two of the injured, Sgt. Ervin Romans (43) and Sgt. Daniel Sakai (35), were mortally wounded and were pronounced dead shortly after being transported to a hospital. The third officer was able to drive himself to the hospital and was not seriously wounded.
Mixon was subsequently killed by return gunfire. As the smoke cleared, the depth of the tragedy began to set in: Sergeants Dunakin, Romans and Sakai were dead. Officer Hege was kept on life support until his organs could be donated. Everyone was stunned. These officers were neither rookies nor reckless. Oakland is a very tough town and street cops in the city regularly deal with very bad situations. All of the slain officers had more than 10 years of experience. Two of them were tactical officers, and three of them were supervisors. Somehow, one determined, at-large parolee had cut a deadly swath through a sea of blue.
It's been almost 40 years since the infamous Newhall incident in which four California Highway Patrol officers were killed during a shootout with two armed suspects. The lessons derived from that awful incident are still being shared in academies around the country today, and undoubtedly there are officers who have made it home because of the teachings written in blood. I don't have enough information to even begin to analyze the events that transpired in Oakland, but an in-depth review will be conducted, and it will painfully scrutinize every possible detail. We owe that to the officers who paid the ultimate price, and we owe it to the officers who continue to serve.
If nothing else, this event underscores the undeniable importance of training and preparedness. Policing often presents the ultimate challenge when you least expect it, when you're handling "just" a traffic stop, or performing an activity that has been accomplished flawlessly in the past.
This is our ILEETA (International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers) issue. Many of our contributors are members of ILEETA and a large group of our charter subscribers came from the ILEETA ranks. ILEETA represents the very heart and soul of what law enforcement is all about because its members are willing to invest themselves in learning how to better serve others. I have no doubt that ILEETA will play a significant role in translating the lessons of Oakland into enhanced officer safety and awareness.
Although this tragic event killed four of Oakland's finest, the huge loss is dwarfed by the more than 17,000 officers whose names are forever written on the National Memorial. Next month, our nation celebrates National Police Week to remember officers who have given so much. They died fulfilling their commitment to serve and protect. Make plans now to remember our fallen, whether it's a ceremony in your local area or participation in the national ceremonies in Washington, D.C. It's important that we all pause to remember, even if we haven't personally suffered a loss. It's a sign of respect and a time to recognize those who gave their lives while serving others. You'll also find that participating in a memorial provides an undeniable increase in your awareness of your surroundings.
If you do make it to D.C., keep an eye out for me. I'd really like to hear from you. I can most often be found at the National Memorial wall, a place I visit several times whenever I'm in the D.C. area. It has always been a touchstone for me, and I can ground in the meaning of service and sacrifice.
-Dale Stockton, Editor in chief