Note:  Sunday, March 21st is the one-year anniversary of this tragic event–OL is making this article more accessible for those still wondering what went down.-SM

What went wrong in the March 21, 2009 Lovell Mixon shooting that left four Oakland police officers, and Mixon, dead? In our second City Translator article, Oakland Local summarizes the just-published independent report on this tragic controversy.

The Oakland Police Department commissioned this report, which is highly critical of police actions — and responded publicly to the report on Jan. 6.

Some of what we discuss below has been reported in other media. Some of it is new. This report is definitely hard reading. But we think this document is important and deserves wide access — which is why we’ve embedded it in this article.

We realize that this report — and our interpretation of it — may upset and anger some people in Oakland and beyond. We welcome your views in the comments. For now, here’s Oakland Local’s take on the report:

First off, Oakland Local applauds Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts for having the confidence and courage to release this document so that Oakland citizens can be more informed.

Here is the complete report. Our summary and analysis continues below:

Independent Board of Inquiry Into the Oakland Police Department


The Incident and what happened

After two officers approached parolee Lovelle Mixon during a traffic stop at MacArthur Boulevard and 74th Avenue at 1:15 p.m. on March 21, Mixon shot and killed them, then left the scene on foot and went to a family apartment at 2755 74th Ave. Even though one officer had a witness that said he was inside, other officers running parts of the incident response didn’t think that was accurate—a judgement the Board of Inquiry (BOI) says led to more tragedy.

According to the Board of Inquiry report, without following department process in terms of communication or shared decision-making, one of the senior officers on site expanded his designated role and basically took command of the situation. This Lieutenant –called Lieutentant #3 in the report–there are no actual names– called for a SWAT team without consulting the other Lieutenant (#1) working the investigation (p. 3), assembled an ad-hoc SWAT team from a group of officers who had never worked on a team together before, and sent them into the apartment where they believed Lovelle Mixon was not present—though he was actually within, as one witness had said (p. 4).

A central point the report makes repeatedly is that the officers involved in going after Mixon on 74th Avenue did not have a clear leader, a thoroughly sketched-out plan of action, actual knowledge of the apartment layout. They also lacked an ambulance standing by and a full team of SWAT officers who had  worked together before (that team was late in arriving). Nevertheless, every senior officer who was present agreed the OPD should send officers into the apartment without those things, regardless of procedure and best practices. When a “skeleton crew” of SWAT team leaders entered  the apartment and encountered Mixon, tragedy ensued (pp. 3,6,11).

The Board of Inquiry report detailed how one of the officers, Romans, was shot immediately as the team entered. Rather than retreating to safety—which the investigators said would have been the correct action—the SWAT team pressed its raid forward and continued to move toward Mixon,  The report says that this is when the second officer, Sakai, was then shot to death, and another officer was wounded before the SWAT team killed Mixon.


Some of the details in the report worth considering:

  • The OPD made no effort to contact people in the apartment and get them out before they went in (p. 7).
  • The OPD was not communicating with people in the neighborhood about what was happening–even though they’d called for 115 city-wide units to come to the scene.(This is an item the Board of Inquiry calls out.)
  • Police officers who were on the entry team left the scene and went to the homes of families of the slain officers, still wearing bloody uniforms, to tell them about their losses (p. 17).
  • No officer was appointed as in charge of the whole incident response when it was happening, so there was no one central point of communication. “Since basic emergency incident management protocols were not being followed and no command post had been established, there was  no centralized point for the collection and dissemination of intelligence” (p. 11).
  • Officers approved going into the apartment, even though there was no ambulance or medical coverage on the scene, a break with established policy (p. 8).
  • The report emphasizes that is not good police practice to storm an apartment where a shooter might be if there are no hostages to rescue—but the OPD did anyway (p. 12).

 

Additional points to be aware of:

Many people in the OPD did not follow procedures

The report outlines in detail how one Lieutenant, called Lieutenant #3 here, took charge of managing the incident without actually being authorized to do so and made decisions without consulting or informing the two other officers who were sharing duties with him.

The report strongly implies that Lieutentant #3 did such a bad job following police procedure that his decisions played a large part in the deaths of the two officers shot inside the apartment (pp. 7,10-11,14-15).

However, the report also shows how senior officers did not assert good judgment and allowed the plans suggested by Lieutenant #3 to move ahead, even if some assumptions were incorrect, so they were responsible for what happened as well. It’s clear that tbe Board of Inquiry feels that multiple persons in the OPD were accountable for what resulted (p. 11).

The police showed “admirable restraint” by not killing Reynete Mixon

Given how impetuously the police acted in barging into the apartment without getting a layout of the space or confirming whether Mixon was inside,  Reynete Mixon, Lovelle’s female cousin who was in the apartment with him, could have been shot. The report emphasizes that she is lucky to be alive and repeatedly praises the restraint of the Entry Team in not shooting her, calling it an “extraordinary accomplishment” (pp. 8, 11, 14).

The OPD needs to tighten up on training and enforcing procedures

The report not only says that the OPD’s raid on the apartment should never have gone forward, it has a detailed list of what should be done in the future to prevent these mistakes, mostly related to training, process and reinforcing the rules (pp. 14-18).

Lieutenant #3 had such bad judgement during this situation, the BOI questioned his choice as a senior officer (p. 12) There was one officer re-assigned after this incident.

The summary reads like the ending of a tragic novel (see p. 9) “The March 21st incident was the deadliest encounter in the history of the Oakland Police  Department. As a result, five lives were lost, one sergeant was wounded, and many police officers and citizens were exposed to potential life threatening injury. This incident began with a routine vehicle stop and escalated with the murder of two officers and a city-wide response.

However, the newly promoted and inexperienced Area III watch commander, Lieutenant #1, did not establish a command post or implement any basic emergency incident management protocols. The decision by Lieutenant #1 to order a city-wide response brought more than 115 units and the two other Area watch commanders to the scene. The three Lieutenants failed to coordinate their efforts and plans. Instead, the Area II watch commander, Lieutenant #3, self-asserted overall command and inexplicably decentralized the command of the large-scale critical incident into three separate and uncoordinated activities.

Overall, officers, supervisors, and outside agencies did not have shared situational awareness; a command post was not established, they did not understand their roles in the massive search for the suspect, they had no knowledge of an overall plan to manage the 115 units arriving at the scene, and they did not know who the Incident Commander was. This lack of coordination contributed to an ineffective and poorly managed operation.

The search for the suspect was uncoordinated and not managed appropriately by Lieutenant #3. This resulted in further deterioration of the command decision making. Lieutenant #3, although not declaring so, assumed the role of Incident Commander, without consultation with the crime scene commander, Lieutenant #1, who, according to statements from numerous supervisors on-scene, was effectively managing the unfolding incident.

However, Lieutenant #3 only completed a small portion of the Incident Commander role, leaving most tasks unaddressed and uncoordinated. He failed to establish a command post, staff it appropriately, or implement even the most fundamental elements of the Incident Command System (ICS).”

What is written here is Oakland Local’s view. We welcome hearing yours!

Our goal is to make this report accessible to others so they can read it themselves if they wish. We welcome discussion of both the points made in the report and comments on our views. We commend Chief Officer Batts for the confidence and courage to release this document so that Oakland citizens can be more informed.

For other perspectives on this event, see these recent articles.

Written by Susan Mernit