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Oakland mourns 3 slain officers

A fourth fights for life after violence erupts at a traffic stop and

March 22, 2009|Maria L. LaGanga and Anna Gorman

OAKLAND AND LOS ANGELES — In one of the deadliest police shootings in California history, three Oakland officers were killed and a fourth gravely wounded in two incidents Saturday that began with a routine traffic stop, police officials said.

The violence began at 1:08 p.m. when two motorcycle officers pulled over a 1995 Buick on MacArthur Boulevard in east Oakland. At 1:16 p.m., a call came into the department saying two officers were down and needed medical attention. The driver had stepped out of the car and fired at the officers before fleeing into the neighborhood, authorities said.

Police launched a "very extensive manhunt," said department spokesman Jeff Thomason. Several streets were blocked off and a helicopter flew overhead. Police then received a tip that a possible suspect was barricaded inside a nearby apartment building.

About 3:20 p.m., SWAT officers entered the multiunit building on 74th Avenue, down the street from the first shootings. Authorities said the suspect immediately fired at officers with an assault weapon, hitting three of them. SWAT officers "returned fire in defense of their lives," Jordan said.

Killed were Sgt. Mark Dunakin, 40; Sgt. Ervin Romans, 43; and Sgt. Daniel Sakai, 35. Officer John Hege, 41, was in grave condition at Highland Hospital late Saturday. The fifth officer, who was not identified Saturday, was treated and released.

The gunman, Lovelle Mixon, 27, was also killed. He was wanted on a no-bail warrant for violating his parole on a conviction of assault with deadly weapon.

Saturday's violence was among the worst incidents of its kind since 1970, when four California Highway Patrol officers were killed in a shootout in Newhall. The officers had tracked down two gun-waving suspects who had been threatening motorists.

Thomason said that the investigation is ongoing but that officers were "not searching for anybody else right now."

"It is in these moments that words are extraordinarily inadequate," Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums said. "We come together in shock and grief and sadness and sorrow."

Oakland Police Department Acting Chief Howard A. Jordan said "everyone is pouring out their hearts," referring to the panel of civic leaders behind him at a news conference Saturday night, including Dellums and state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, a former Oakland mayor. Jordan said handling the deaths will be a "traumatic and daunting task" but praised the resilience of his 800-officer department.

Oakland has long been known as a violence-plagued city where crime rates have soared in recent years, rising at least 40% since 2004.

The shootings Saturday occurred near the Eastmont police substation, where pawnshops, check-cashing stands and storefront churches line the street. By evening, the area was still cordoned off with yellow police tape. Residents had to show identification before police would allow them to return to their homes.

Jermaine Jackson, 23, who lives nearby, said he was at home when the shootings occurred.

"I came outside and I heard probably 10 gunshots," Jackson said.

Unfortunately, he said, gun violence is not uncommon in his neighborhood. "I don't feel safe at all," he said. "You don't know who will shoot you."

Yolanda Johnson, 58, was working at a pawnshop on MacArthur when she heard the shots. "I've been working here for 18 years," she said. "This area is pretty bad and it's not getting better. It's so sad that happened to those officers."

K. Lowe, 40, who was walking his pit bull two blocks from the crime scene, said he was not surprised by the brazen shooting.

"It's a hot spot," he said. "This is just another day in the 'hood. It's sad, but what can you do? It's a doggone shame."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a written statement that Saturday was a "tragic day for law enforcement officers everywhere." Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff in honor of the officers.

"All four officers dedicated their lives to public safety and selflessly worked to protect the people of Oakland," he said. "Maria and I join the Bay Area in remembering their service and honoring their sacrifice."

Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks, whose district includes the area, said her heart was with the officers' relatives.

"Our prayers go out to all of the families of all the officers," she said. "They do such a tremendous service. And I can't even find words beyond what I have just said."

Oakland City Atty. John Russo called the deaths "senseless."

"We didn't lose four officers in the earthquakes or the worst of the fires," he said. "You want to find meaning in it. It underscores what a difficult job it is to be a police officer."

The officers' deaths also saddened law enforcement officers throughout the state.

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