Harry Harris and Cecily Burt
Lovelle Mixon, a parolee on the run, already had shot Oakland police Sgt. Mark Dunakin and Officer John Hege. Then, as the two men lay on the ground, Mixon stood over them and fired again.
But the ex-con wasn’t done. He ran around the corner to his sister’s apartment and waited — SKS military assault rifle ready — for the officers he knew would come after him.
Those were some of the horrifying details that emerged Monday about the shootings of four veteran Oakland police officers Saturday by a violent felon who has also now been linked to the rape of a young girl last month.
Three of the officers were declared dead over the weekend. A fourth, Hege, was taken off life support Monday afternoon at Highland Hospital in Oakland.
Dunakin, 40, of Tracy, a motorcycle officer, stopped a Buick driven by Mixon in the 7400 block of MacArthur Boulevard at 1:08 p.m. Saturday, possibly for expired registration, police sources said.
It is not known whether Hege, 41, of Concord, also a motorcycle officer, was with Dunakin at the initial stop or pulled up later.
During the stop, Dunakin requested Mixon’s license and ran a check, sources said. Mixon’s picture was on the license, but the license number belonged to another person.
As Dunakin was walking back to the car, Mixon stepped out and began shooting with a semi-automatic handgun, hitting Dunakin and Hege, police sources said.
The officers did not have a chance to draw their weapons or to radio for help. Witnesses said Mixon then stood over the stricken officers and shot them again before fleeing with the gun.
A passer-by aided the officers and made the first 911 call at 1:16 p.m.
A massive manhunt began, and police cordoned off the block where the car stopped and shooting occurred. Within a short time, officers got a tip that the shooter was inside an apartment building on 74th Avenue, a short distance away.
It was not clear whether they knew the identity of the suspect or that he was wanted on a no-bail warrant; however, sources said the tipster may have known Mixon.
Either way, the man inside was a killer, armed and dangerous.
Within 45 minutes of the initial traffic stop, police from Oakland and other agencies had surrounded the apartment building.
A SWAT team, led by Sgt. Dan Sakai, 35, of Castro Valley, spent nearly an hour on the details of their plan, then, along with camouflaged sharpshooters, got into position.
Police tried to make contact with Mixon but got no response. They worried that others were inside the apartment, and because of the unit’s location immediately inside the front entrance, they worried the suspect would start shooting into the street.
Commanders also were concerned about the safety of the occupants inside the other apartments and could not figure out a way to safely carry out an evacuation, said a commander who was at the scene and did not want his name used.
“It was a very tough building to approach and evacuate people,” the commander said.
For those reasons, the team decided to enter the apartment.
Sakai, Sgt. Erv Romans, 43, of Danville, Sgt. Pat Gonzales, and four other Oakland officers forcibly entered the apartment, lobbing at least two flash-bang grenades to distract the suspect, and quickly made their way down a dark hallway toward the only bedroom.
Mixon, hiding in a closet in that room, didn’t wait. He began firing through the walls into the hallway without warning. The officers didn’t have a chance.
Romans was the first hit, police sources said. The team could not see Mixon and made their way to the back room, said Harry Stern of Rains, Lucia and Stern, an attorney representing the police officers who shot Mixon.
A couple of officers dragged Romans out of the apartment, bullets still whizzing by their heads. At that point, an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy who is a member of the department’s SWAT team saw them carrying Romans out and rushed inside to help.
Mixon was killed, but not before Sakai suffered a fatal wound to the head and Gonzales was hit in the shoulder. A bullet also grazed Gonzales’ SWAT helmet. He drove himself to a hospital, where he was treated and released.
Mixon’s 16-year-old sister was inside the apartment during the shooting but was not hit by the gunfire.
SWAT experts around the country said the situation seemed to dictate Oakland’s response, which is first and foremost to protect the public.
“This seems typical, very typical, almost standard operating procedure, particularly if there is someone in there you know is armed and dangerous,” said Jack O’Connor, executive director of the U.S. National SWAT Championships in Mesa, Ariz. “I don’t think anybody can criticize these officers. They are on the ground. They have to make a decision, and their decision put them at risk. I seriously doubt that they decided to get the guy because he killed their own.
“Unfortunately, these officers got unlucky and paid with their lives,” he said.
Flash-bang grenades are used to create a distraction, but in this case, the smoke and haze may have hampered the officers, Stern said, because protocol prevented the officers from firing blindly.
“These are highly trained, experienced SWAT officers. They held their fire until they had an actual target,” Stern said. “They weren’t even sure where the rounds were coming from.”
“(After Romans was shot), they fought their way to the bedroom and figured out where he was,” Stern said. “He was in the closet shooting from a lying-down position; this guy has complete intent and resolve to take down the police.”
Mixon, who was released from prison late last year after serving a sentence for violating his parole for a San Francisco-related robbery shooting, was a suspect in the Dec. 30, 2007, murder of Ramon Stevens, 42, but witnesses did not come forward, investigators said. And now police have confirmed that DNA evidence from a state laboratory possibly links Mixon to the rape of a 12-year-old girl in February near the 74th Avenue apartment, Lt. Kevin Wiley said.
His DNA evidence is in the system because he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon for an October 2002 carjacking in San Francisco. Police would have had to collect another sample from Mixon and compare it to the earlier sample to make sure there was a definite match before the district attorney would consider charging him in the rape.
California Attorney General Jerry Brown said Monday that he plans to look into how the 26-year-old parolee was monitored after he was released from prison.
Others are asking how Oakland’s most highly trained SWAT officers could have been killed. But law enforcement experts warn against a rush to judgment, adding that the unexpected can happen, even with the most prepared.
“You have to remember that no matter how fundamentally sound you are and how many protocols you take, it doesn’t mean there will never be an accident, or that someone won’t be harmed,” said Bill Evans, commander of the hostage, barricade and terrorist team for the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department in Chicago. “It’s easy to sit back a day later and (second-guess).”