Harry Harris, Cecily Burt and Sean Maher
The horror for Oakland police that began Saturday afternoon did not end at daybreak Sunday. If anything, the light of day made the killings of the police officers all the more real as friends and family struggled to cope with their losses.
Five veteran officers were shot by the same suspect in two related events Saturday afternoon. Sgts. Mark Dunakin, 40, of Tracy; Erv Romans, 43, of Danville; and Dan Sakai, 35, of Castro Valley, died at Highland Hospital minutes after they arrived. Motorcycle officer John Hege, 41, of Concord, was pronounced brain-dead at Highland Hospital on Sunday morning, said police spokesman Jeff Thomason. A fifth officer, whose name was withheld by authorities, was grazed in the head and a bullet entered and exited his shoulder, Thomason said.
The department and city officials were trying to piece together the facts and make sense of the deaths Sunday. Officers in the close-knit community wore a black mourning stripe across their shields.
Acting Chief Howard Jordan and several top commanders spent several hours Sunday visiting the officers’ homes and families.
“It was a very emotional day, but it was also good for us to have personal time with each family as we move into the next phase — the viewings, the funerals, the internments,” he said. “Everyone was very grateful to see us. Everyone had a lot of support from their family and the Oakland police family. Everyone thanked us, and we had hugs and we had tears.
“I don’t think it has set in yet for them but they seem to be holding up well under the circumstances and a pressure none of us can imagine.”
Police officers, Jordan said, “are all feeling the same pain, rookies and veterans alike, regardless of assignment.”
The officers were shot in a chain of events that started in East Oakland on Saturday afternoon following a traffic stop of a man who turned out to be wanted parolee named Lovelle Mixon, 26. Mixon was wanted on a no-bail warrant for violating his parole for a prior conviction of assault with a deadly weapon.
Mixon opened fire with a handgun on Dunakin and Hege during the stop in the 7400 block of MacArthur Boulevard about 1:05 p.m., police said. He then fled to a nearby apartment on 74th Avenue. Police think he was out of the car when he shot the officers.
Oakland police SWAT team members tried unsuccessfully to communicate with Mixon and at 3 p.m. fired flash grenades into the apartment before entering.
At that point Mixon, who was thought to have been hiding in a closet, fatally shot Romans and Sakai and wounded another officer with an assault rifle.
Mixon was killed by other officers in the apartment.
Dozens of officers from several agencies and city officials had gathered at Highland Hospital on Saturday and continued to pour into the headquarters of the Oakland Police Officers Association building on Fifth Street on Sunday, hugging one another and wiping moist, red eyes.
Even those who were off Sunday or who worked in administration donned their uniforms to relieve their stressed colleagues in the field, Thomason said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the offices Sunday afternoon but did not comment publicly.
Inside, he met with the officers to express his condolences and tell them how much he appreciates what they do, said an officer who was there. Schwarzenegger also spoke about finding state money to reward witnesses who aided police Saturday, said Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums.
As news of the officers’ deaths spread, police officials received calls and offers of help from around the country and the world, including Australia, Canada and France. Residents placed dozens of bouquets of flowers and cards and letters of support outside police headquarters Sunday.
There was little information filtering out about the traffic stop and circumstances surrounding the fatal shootings. Thomason said that everyone wants answers, but the investigation is not done.
“It’s awesome that people from the community are coming forward,” he said. “The men and women in the Oakland Police Department want to know what happened (too). That’s how you get closure.”
Thomason worked with Dunakin in the traffic division before transferring downtown and said he was a nice guy. Everybody in the department knew Romans, he said.
“Erv Romans was my field training officer,” he said. “He trained us in the use of firearms and (nonlethal weapons), so everybody knows who he is.
“Being on the scene and seeing them going in (to the building) and not coming out “… ,” he said, his voice trailing off. “You never think it will happen to you. Sakai and Romans were highly trained SWAT officers.”
Oakland police officers gathered in front of Dunakin’s Tracy home Sunday afternoon as other friends, neighbors and family members stopped by to offer their condolences, flowers, and gifts. Among those visiting was Tracy Councilman Steve Abercrombie, himself a former officer.
“I just came from church, and people there are in shock,” Abercrombie said.
Dunakin joined the Oakland Police Department in 1991, serving several years as a homicide investigator before transferring to the traffic division a few years ago. He previously worked for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office as a technician at Santa Rita.
In 2003, Dunakin was part of an investigation that cracked the notorious Nut Case gang murder case. The gang involved a group of young men and women who from October 2002 to January 2003 committed six killings and scores of street robberies.
Dunakin was married with three children. He loved sports and, despite his Northern California address, was an avid fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ohio State Buckeyes.
His wife, Angela Schwab, was a former Alameda County sheriff’s deputy who was taken captive after responding to a robbery in December 1998 at an Outback Steakhouse in Dublin. Another deputy was shot to death in that tragedy.
“If I would have seen him on the street without his uniform on or without knowing him,” neighbor Sabrina Arellano said, “I wouldn’t have ever thought he was a cop. He was a really big teddy bear.”
Victor Arreola, another neighbor, said that Dunakin would play catch in a nearby park with his son.
“He stopped by once in a while and talked about how much he liked his job,” Arreola said. “He would say it was exciting and that every day was different.”
Oakland police Capt. Ben Fairow called Dunakin a go-to guy.
“He was always a happy guy, extremely helpful,” Fairow said. “If you needed something done, give him a mission and he would do it.”
Both Dunakin and Hege often joined an annual trip that some officers took down to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, said Officer Vic Bullock. After long nights of partying, when some more senior members of the group were sitting back and relaxing or getting ready for bed, they made Dunakin and Hege go fish for the group’s dinner.
“Many a night we dined on mahi-mahi, thanks to them,” Bullock said.
Hege became a sworn officer in 1999 after serving several years as a reserve officer. Several of his fellow officers Sunday parked a pair of patrol cars outside the Piedmont home where Hege’s parents live, standing guard to keep the family’s grief safe and private.
Lt. Brian Medeiros described Hege “as very personable, very outgoing.”
Hege had served for about eight years as a high school basketball and football coach and referee before enrolling in the police academy, friends recalled, and he continued to umpire high school baseball games in his off-hours.
“He was one of those guys you meet that you don’t forget,” said Bill Michels, who said he had worked alongside Hege in the East Bay Basketball Officials Association. “He makes an impression on you. “… He was a good partner, a team player and great guy to work with.”
Hege soon found his calling as a police officer and pursued it with gusto. Early one morning in 2006, Hege encountered a man who said he needed medical help. When Hege stopped to talk to the man, the man suddenly swung a knife at him. Hege blocked the blow, felt a sharp pain in his left hand and saw gushing blood.
However, that was not going to stop him. As the man ran away, Hege got back into his patrol car, called for assistance and continued chasing him, his hand still bleeding. Just a few blocks later, Hege stopped the man with another officer’s help and brought him into custody.
Romans had dreamed for years of joining the Oakland Police Department, and that dream came true in 1996, said Brad Lawrence, 42, of Georgia, a former officer who had roomed with Romans in Hayward for about four years.
“When I met him, in 1993, he was an Oakland Housing Authority police officer,” Lawrence said. “One of the happiest days of his life was when he graduated the police academy and got to join up with OPD.”
Romans was a former Marine Corps drill sergeant, which probably helped him while training recruits for the Oakland Police Department.
“He was like a little fireball,” Lawrence said. “Just a total go-getter, a never-say-die sort of guy. I’m sure he terrorized his recruits but he had the biggest heart you could ever meet in a guy.”
Lawrence said that Romans loved to go hunting and fishing back home in Michigan, so working on the firing range to certify officers was right up his alley. Romans also prided himself on being an excellent cook, Lawrence said.
Romans taught hundreds of academy students about firearms and the use of nonlethal weapons.
“He was absolutely dedicated to the firearms instruction,” Fairow said. “He trained so many people here, it’s incredible. He loved his job, he spent so many hours here.”
The mood was somber Sunday morning in front of Sakai’s home in Castro Valley, where at least three Oakland police officers stood guard and a small group of friends and neighbors had gathered. One neighbor on the street said Sakai was “a nice guy” and said that neighbors had put up their American flags in a show of support.
People went in and out of the home and hugged each other on the porch. Eyes were red as police and civilians alike said they would not comment out of respect for Sakai’s family.
“His life was here and at home,” said Lt. Peter Lau, one of Sakai’s supervisors.
Sakai, who joined the department in 2000, had a 4-year-old daughter he would bring to the police station.
“He was relatively quiet but he commanded his young troops’ respect,” Lau said of Sakai, who also served as a patrol rifle instructor. “He cared about those youngsters and not just their work. He poured his life into various programs here to train other officers.”
Councilmember Desley Brooks (Eastmont-Seminary), went to the scene Saturday and then later to Highland Hospital
“I was heartbroken, to stand out there yesterday to see the officers and know they were killed and watch the other officers continue to their do their jobs,” she said.
She commended the residents who came to help the stricken officers and who helped police locate the suspect.
“It was actually a citizen who thought to administer CPR,” Brooks said. “Had it not been for that citizen (the officers wouldn’t have gotten immediate help). That guy did a hell of a job continuing to keep the officer alive.”
Brooks said a vigil is planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday at 74th Street and MacArthur Boulevard to help the community come together and begin to heal after the tragedy, and to show support for the officers who keep them safe.
“We want the community to come out and show love and support for the grieving officers,” Brooks said. “It shouldn’t take a tragedy like this for us to acknowledge the hard work the officers do in the community every day.”