Report: Shots fired, four Oakland officers down
On March 21, 2009 four brave Oakland officers were killed in the line of duty — engaged in the noble but dangerous calling that is law enforcement. As difficult as it must have been, Chief Howard Jordan ordered that an independent study of the tragedy be done so that those who follow in the footsteps of these fallen brothers may tread more certainly in the dangerous but often-traveled path toward felony apprehension. The 18-page report was prepared by James K. Stewart of the CAN Institute of Public Research.
At 1:08 PM on Saturday March 21, 2009 Sgt. Mark Dunakin initiated a traffic stop of Lovelle Mixon, a recently released prison parolee, who was wanted for parole violation. Mixon’s status was not known by Sgt. Dunakin at the time of the stop. The Sgt. was backed up by Officer John Hegge.
After the initial contact, Sgt. Dunakin ran the information he received from the driver and the plates and he learned that there was “no record on file,” for the driver license. Sgt. Dunakin and Officer Hegge walked up to the driver and “approached alongside the driver’s side door together.” The report recognized that this deviated from the best practice of “contact, cover.”
The assault on the approach was immediate. The report says that Mixon leaned out the driver’s window and “methodically shot (1:15 PM) each officer twice.”
The report further stated, “The suspect crawled out the driver’s side window and walked up to the dying officers shooting each in the back as they lay face down in the street.” The suspect then fled on foot.
According to the report, “The first responders…arrived at the scene quickly and took self assigned actions that were outstanding.”
It was pointed out that no one established a command post and it was difficult to determine who was in command. One Lieutenant was praised because he “had obtained an eye witness, who said the suspect entered the apartment building at 2755-74th Ave.,” an essential piece of information.
2755 74th Ave.
At the location where Lovelle Mixon was holed up, another Lieutenant — who is referred to in the report as “Lt. #3” — took “de facto” command of the incident at 2755-74th Ave.
A command post was not set up at that scene and one briefing session was held in a nearby intersection with a direct line of sight from and to the apartment the suspect was in.
The report observed that this lieutenant also “Self assigned himself the role as de facto tactical commander, ordering that an ad hoc entry team be formed amongst the team members present rather than waiting for the SWAT Team, a violation of OPD policy.”
Order to Enter
The report outlined that lieutenant #3:
• Did not gather routine intelligence
• Did not establish location surveillance
• Obtained neither a detailed floor plan, nor a building layout
• Made no attempts to contact the subjects inside
• Made no attempts to protect the neighbors through evacuations and notifications
• Gathered no background information
• Made an entry plan and had it approved by a Deputy Chief
• Made the plan without input from the entry team
• Conducted a rushed briefing of the entry team
• Failed to have all entry team members present for the briefing
• Failed to identify a team leader for the entry team
The Lieutenant who made the entry plan gave the order to the ad hoc entry team to “enter and clear.” He ordered this entry:
• Without sniper support
• Without hostage negotiator support
• Without tactical support
• Without first trying less dangerous options available
When another Lieutenant advised Lieutenant #3 that he had received information from a reliable informant that Mixon was indeed inside the apartment the report concludes Lieutenant #3 “inappropriately discounted the possibility of the suspect’s presence.”
After the information was disregarded the entry team was given the command to enter and clear.
Undaunted, Undeniable, Unforgettable Courage
At 3:02 PM the entry team moved into position and the door was forced. One team member was immediately shot mortally wounded and went down upon gaining entry. A second entry team member was shot in the shoulder, but he and the rest of the entry team pressed on. The entry team had not yet fired a shot, since the apartment was poorly illuminated and they could not acquire a visual of the suspect. A female suddenly came running out screaming and the report praised the team’s firearms discipline since even under circumstances such as this they held their fire.
She ran past the team screaming.
The mortally wounded team member was evacuated and the rest of the team pressed forward through the urban battlefield littered with toys and tricycles. Mixon was spotted momentarily next to a bedroom door, but he disappeared into the bedroom slamming the door behind him. The team continued forward and entry was made into the bedroom. As the first team member entered the bedroom he was mortally wounded and the following member tripped and was hit with a round that was deflected by his Kevlar helmet. Mixon was firing with an “assault rifle.” He had taken a firing position within a closet inside the bedroom.
As the team member fell, he landed next to the closet and now could see Mixon inside the closet, concealed behind the closet door. Mixon was holding an assault rifle with a fixed bayonet on the end. As the officer landed he fired in defense of his life as did another member, who was firing on the move. They were joined by a Deputy, who had moved in from the perimeter to assist.
They fired until Mixon no longer posed a threat. It was over.
Conclusions and Recommendations
On March 21, 2009 the Oakland Police Department lost four courageous brother officers, who fell to the gunfire of a career criminal named Lovelle Mixon. Mixon was someone a parole board thought worthy of parole. The courage of these officers on this day is as irrefutable as Mixon’s criminality. Their department opened itself up to this in depth investigation and invited critique so that all of law enforcement might benefit from the hard lessons learned in the hardest of ways.
The report is comprehensive and careful not to name names. Rather, it uses numbers and identifies circumstances and conditions that any officer might someday find themselves in. It also documents difficult decisions that any commander might discover they have to make in the future. It addresses actions leading up to the incident, the response to the incident, as well as the post incident notifications.
Just as thousands of law enforcement officers honor the fallen by attending the memorials of the fallen, it behooves all who make vehicle contacts and go through doors to read this report. Doing so is to honor the memory of those Oakland Officers who gave their lives so that others might live.
PoliceOne thanks The Oakland Police Department for submitting itself to additional pain by authorizing and then sharing this report. You are in our thoughts and prayers and your loss is our loss.