OPD Chief Anthony Batts at Jan 6 media event
What started as a “routine traffic stop” led to the “greatest tragedy in the Oakland Police Department's history,” says an independent report on police mistakes surrounding the March 21, 2009 pursuit and shooting of Lovelle Mixon. Four officers died in that incident.
The report, released by police Wednesday night, describes a chaotic police response. Police Chief Anthony Batts agreed with the searing report's findings. But he also insisted that the perception that “everything went wrong” on this case is incorrect.
“We will build on those things that we did well, we will correct those areas that were flawed," Batts vowed. “We will improve.”
Editor's note: OL contributor Reginald James was one of only a few people not affiliated with mainstream media to attend the Oakland Police Department Jan. 6 press conference about the report. Here's the full report. Oakland Local will post a summary of it soon. Story continues below:
When the smoke cleared, four officers were dead: Sgt. Mark Dunakin, John Hege, Sgt. Ervin Romans and Sgt. Dan Sakai. All were killed by 26 year old parolee Lovelle Mixon, who was eventually killed by police.
The solemn press conference convened Wednesday night following an afternoon briefing of the officers’ families, as well as a briefing of OPD staff earlier that evening.
“There were many good, solid decisions that were made on that scene that day by command staff,” Batts said. “Many courageous, selfless acts took place that day that should be heralded and honored.”
Batts -- who applied to be city’s top cop following the shooting--vowed OPD would be transparent and would use the incident to become a better police force. He added that some officers had been reassigned following the incident.
Lt. Brian Medeiros, who headed the investigation, described the initial shooting of Sgt. Mark Dunakin and Officer Hege as summarized in the report. Dunakin stopped Mixon for running a stop sign on MacArthur Blvd, according to police. Initially, it was a “low stress” encounter until it was discovered that the driver’s license was fake.
Dunakin, now joined by Hege, approached the vehicle on the driver’s side when Mixon reached out of the window and “shoots him multiple times, basically at point blank range.” After being hit “multiple times,” Dunakin stumbles backwards while the suspect continues shooting “one round after another,” according to Medeiros. However, this appears to contradict the report which states Mixon “methodically shot each officer twice.”
Mixon then “shoots both fallen officers in their backs as they're down,” Medeiros said.
Capt. Ben Fairow, who chaired the Board of Inquiry, used a diagram to outline to the audience what took place in the apartment Mixon fled into.
A total of seven officers entered the apartment. Immediately upon entry, officers were fired upon, according to Medeiros. Sgt. Patrick Gonzalez was the first officer to enter the apartment, followed by Sgt. Erv Romans who was shot seconds after entry. Gonzalez – who shot and killed Gary King, Jr. in 2007 – was also wounded.
Fairow said Mixon was firing from the back bathroom while retreating to bathroom. As he fired, an officer shots at him as he went through the door, Farrow told the audience.
After Batts whispered to Fairow, he recalled the report’s commendation of officers for not shooting Mixon’s younger sister Reynete Mixon, who was also in the apartment.
“Prior to getting to the bathroom, light sound diversionary devices were used upon entry,” explained Fairow. These “stun grenades, or “flash bangs” are “concussive in nature,” according to Fairow. One that was thrown into the bathroom “flushed Mixon’s sister out, and she came running out towards the team.”
The report lauded the team’s expertise at holding their fire, they call it ‘fire country”, their quickly identifying the fact that she wasn’t a threat, and allowing her to pass through while they were still under fire from Mixon, with a high powered rifle.”
The report; however, neglects to mention the use of these explosive devices Fairow mentions in the apartment.
Another stun grenade was then used to enter the back room. Sgt. Sakai – who used canines to track Mixon to the apartment – was the first to enter the room and was mortally wounded. The remaining officers, including a now wounded Gonzalez entered into the background and killed Mixon. The entire episode lasted less than two hours, according to police.
Assisting Chief Howard Jordan, who ordered the report nine months ago as acting chief, said the goal of the investigation was to “ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”
“The Board found there was a lack of command and control that led to the hasty decision to enter that apartment building,” Jordan said, adding that Chief Batts “has taken appropriate actions to remedy those recommendations.”
Jordan declined to state the names of those officers who were disciplined, and asked the media not to disclose that information.
Police were not aware that the Mixon’s sister was in the apartment, according to Jordan, who called her injuries “superficial.” Mixon’s sister recently filed a claim against the city.
He also cited the police officers Bill of Rights as to why names were not identified in a public document.
Police were criticized for releasing the report less than two hours before the press conference, resulting in primarily mainstream news outlets being the only media in attendance. Police said the rationale was because they wanted to speak to the officers’ families first, then the other members of the police force, and finally with the media and the public.
When asked what could’ve been done differently, the OPD doubted that the whole incident would’ve had a different outcome with different methodology.
“I don’t know if they had done anything different that the results would not have been the same,” Jordan said. “Lovelle Mixon was determined, willing and capable of doing what he did.”
Prior to the press conference, police brought in two weapons as “props” to demonstrate the type of weapons used to kill the officers.
Police also said that Mixon was positively identified as a suspect in the sexual assault of two women that same morning, as well as the sexual assault of a 12 year old and a Modesto home invasion in February.