March 21, 2009, will be remembered as one of the darkest days for law enforcement in the city of Oakland and throughout the state of California. On that Saturday afternoon a chain of events started with a routine traffic stop in East Oakland and ended with five Oakland PD officers shot, four of them fatally.
At 1:05 p.m. OPD motor officer Sergeant Mark Dunakin stopped a Buick driven by Lovelle Mixon (26) in the 7400 block of MacArthur Boulevard. Officer John Hege arrived on scene moments later. Mixon opened fire on Dunakin and Hege with a handgun, striking both. Before fleeing the scene, Mixon stood over the downed officers and fired again.
An intense manhunt by OPD, CHP, and Alameda County Sheriff’s Department ensued. Soon after, OPD received an anonymous tip that the suspect was barricaded inside an apartment building on 74th Avenue. After repeated attempts to communicate with Mixon failed, a SWAT team was sent in to apprehend him. As SWAT officers made entry, Mixon opened fire with an assault rifle from behind a closet door, killing Sergeant Ervin Romans and Sergeant Daniel Sakai. A third officer was wounded. Officers returned fire and Mixon was killed.
Mixon had an extensive violent criminal history and was on parole for assault with a deadly weapon for armed robbery. At the time of the incident he was wanted on a no-bail warrant. Reportedly, just a day before the shootings Oakland police detectives had connected Mixon’s DNA to an unsolved child rape case.
Sergeants Dunakin, Romans, and Sakai passed away on March 21. Officer Hege remained on life-support for two days pending organ donation, which ultimately saved the lives of four people.
A ten-year veteran of OPD, John Hege (41) was described as the first to respond to a call to assist another officer and a cop who kept an even keel interacting with people while policing the streets of Oakland. “There are ways to talk to people,” said OPD spokesman Officer Jeff Thomason, “and he knew how to do it.” Hege graduated from St. Mary’s College in Moraga and taught physical education at Tennyson High School in Hayward. However, police work was his true vocation, said his father, John S. Hege of Piedmont. “I think he was drawn to it…he wanted to be a policeman and it was a good life’s work for him. He enjoyed it, and he made a lot of good friends in the Police Department.” Hege transferred to the motor division – his dream assignment – on March 7, though he had completed training much earlier. “He was getting ready to be transferred,” Thomason said, “but at the time he was a field training officer, so it went against him (to transfer) because he needed to be there to train all these new rookies.” Hege is survived by his parents, Dr. John and Tamara Hege.
Friday, March 27, the four heroes were honored and memorialized. An unprecedented 20,000 people gathered at Oracle Arena and the adjacent Oakland Coliseum to pay tribute to the fallen peace officers. Law enforcement representing agencies from across the country and Canada joined family and friends of the honored officers and community members. Dignitaries from every level of government were in attendance, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lt. Governor John Garamendi, former mayor of Oakland and current state Attorney General Jerry Brown, U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, mayors from the cities of Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, and members of the Oakland city council.
As the four flag-draped caskets lined the stage, the entire 815-member Oakland Police Department filled the front rows of the arena while officers from the CHP and neighboring cities patrolled the streets of Oakland.
“It is with heartfelt sadness, yet a sense of hope, that we gather today to honor the lives of our fallen brothers,” said Rev. Jayson Landeza, the Oakland police chaplain who opened the services with a prayer. “Whether from another part of the Bay Area or this great state or from another part of the nation, we are all one family that supports this family in this time of grief.”
Oakland PD Captain Ed Tracey, with his voice faltering, told the congregation that he supervised both the tactical teams and traffic units. “These were my men.” he said simply. “Please know that these officers died doing absolutely what they loved, being Oakland police officers, riding motors, kicking in doors, serving on SWAT.” Tracey closed by giving thanks to Clarence Ellis, a 53-year-old retired bus driver who performed CPR on Dunakin before paramedics arrived. “To the brave man who provided CPR to our fallen heroes, we thank you. We thank you from the bottom of our heart. Your actions let us know that day that they did not die in vain, that the people they were there to protect and serve were the ones who helped them.”
Acting Police Chief Howard Jordan, who assumed the post just three weeks before the tragedy, gave the families of each officer the flags that had covered their caskets. A bugler sounded taps, and police bagpipers played “Amazing Grace.” Outside the arena, officers stood at attention as their slain brothers received a 21-gun salute from military cannons.