Henry K. Lee
The Oakland police captain in charge of the department’s SWAT and traffic units denied Monday that he had dodged a chance to lead what became an ill-fated raid for the killer of two motorcycle officers, saying that the unit had been in capable hands and that no one had urged him to take over.
Capt. Ed Tracey said he drove straight from his home to Highland Hospital in Oakland on March 21 to be with fellow officers and relatives of Sgt. Mark Dunakin and Officer John Hege, the motorcycle officers who were gunned down by 26-year-old parolee Lovelle Mixon.
“It was a clear decision for me, and I stand behind it,” Tracey said at a news conference at police headquarters, where he was flanked by acting Police Chief Howard Jordan and other top officials.
Tracey was at the hospital when police got a tip that Mixon had fled from the shooting scene at 74th Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard to his sister’s apartment less than a block away. Other police commanders launched the raid that resulted in the deaths of two SWAT officers, along with Mixon.
While at the hospital, Tracey had been reached by phone by patrol Capt. Rick Orozco, who told him that the SWAT team was being assembled to raid the apartment and that Tracey should return to supervise the operation, law enforcement sources have told The Chronicle. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the department.
Tracey opted to remain at Highland, saying he was tending to the families, the sources said, and Orozco went forward with the raid. When the SWAT team went in, Sgts. Ervin Romans and Daniel Sakai were shot and killed. Officers returned fire and killed Mixon.
But Tracey blasted that account of his actions Monday, saying Orozco, a “very competent and very experienced SWAT commander,” had agreed to take charge at the scene shortly after Dunakin and Hege had been shot, and Deputy Chief Dave Kozicki had been on his way “to provide direction and leadership.”
Both Orozco and Kozicki – who attended the news conference but did not address the media – have experience as SWAT team commanders, Tracey said.
“At that time, this was not deemed to be a SWAT situation, as the information about the identity of the shooter was still being developed,” Tracey said. “In addition, we did not have any concrete information regarding the whereabouts of the suspect.
“It is unfortunate that you, the media, have been given inaccurate information regarding my actions on March 21 by sources hiding under the protection of anonymity,” Tracey said.
“I did not choose to respond to the hospital as opposed to leading my men on the SWAT team,” Tracey said. “I was not asked by Capt. Orozco to respond to the crime scene. I have never shied away from my responsibilities as a captain of police or as a SWAT commander.”
Tracey acknowledged, however, that SWAT team members had raised concerns about him since the raid. As a result, he said, “I felt it was best for me to step aside, take away the distractions from the team so they can move on.”
But after consulting with his superiors, and “after emotions calmed down from the team,” Tracey decided to stay with the SWAT outfit, he said. He declined to discuss the concerns raised by members of his team.
Jordan said he recognized that the loss of the four officers would result in highly charged emotions within the department.
“That’s a natural tendency,” the acting chief said. “People want answers – we’re going to give them answers.”
The chief said the shootings were being investigated by both homicide and internal affairs investigators. In addition, Oakland police Capt. Ben Fairow, who has SWAT leadership experience, is heading a panel of outside experts that will look into the department’s handling of the incident.
The panel will include experts from the Los Angeles Police Department and the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. It will make its recommendations public.
If needed, the Alameda County sheriff’s SWAT detail will assist the Oakland SWAT unit for the next four to six months, at which time new Oakland SWAT team leaders and members will have been fully trained, the chief said.