It was early Saturday afternoon, and Curtis Mixon was talking with his 26-year-old nephew. Lovelle Shawn Mixon had called on a cellphone from his newly purchased 1995 Buick as he drove through east Oakland.
“Vel said the police was pulling him over,” the 38-year-old medical records clerk recalled Sunday. “He said, ‘I just pulled over.’ ”
The uncle listened as his nephew -- stopped on MacArthur Boulevard less than two blocks from a police station and around the corner from his sister’s apartment -- spoke with a motorcycle officer and searched for his driver’s license and registration.
Mixon told his uncle he would have to call him back.
He never did.
What followed was an almost inexplicable chain of events that left Mixon and four Oakland police officers dead and sent this city into an all-too-familiar ritual of municipal grief and self-examination.
According to authorities and witnesses, Mixon opened fire as two motorcycle officers stood behind his car, apparently checking his papers. He had been released from prison in November and was wanted for an alleged parole violation.
Sgt. Mark Dunakin, 40, died despite a citizen’s efforts to revive him.
Officer John Hege, 41, was taken to Highland Hospital, where he was declared brain-dead Sunday.
While police swarmed the neighborhood, Mixon escaped around the corner to 74th Avenue in a residential neighborhood of bungalows, many with pit bulls fenced in the front yard. He shook on the locked back door of one house, startling the young girl inside, and then ducked into the ground floor of his sister Enjoli Mixon’s apartment building.
Inside the apartment, another sister, 16-year-old Reynete Mixon, was unaware that her brother had returned. In an interview, she said she was in the bathroom when a SWAT team kicked down the door after a two-hour manhunt.
“I was yelling at them that I was in the house,” Reynete said Sunday afternoon in front of her grandmother’s modest Oakland home not far from where the shootings occurred. “They didn’t really try to figure out who I was or if there was someone inside the house.”
Across the hall, neighbor Mya Moore heard a crash on a door and a young girl shout, “Stop, wait!” Then came an explosion and rapid bursts of gunfire.
Peeking through her front window, the 27-year-old Oakland native saw one police officer, his head split open by gunfire, being dragged by officers through the building’s main door to the sidewalk. Another was carried out to a police SUV and rushed away.
Ervin Romans, 43, and Daniel Sakai, 35, both sergeants and SWAT team members, did not survive, and as the gunfire subsided Moore could hear the agonized cries of officers as they absorbed the toll of a brief but furious gun battle: “I heard one of them saying, ‘It’s not looking good. It’s not looking good.’ ”
Moore could hear other officers shouting commands to Mixon’s sister. She said there had been “a lot” of shooting “on both sides, from him and from them.” Oakland Police Department spokesman Jeff Thomason said Mixon was armed with an assault weapon in the apartment shootout. He would not say what kind of weapon was used in the earlier shooting.
City left reeling
On Sunday, news crews, neighbors and passersby roamed around the shooting sites, trying to make sense of the carnage. Votive candles and flowers were placed about the neighborhood, on the sidewalk where the motorcycle sergeant died, in front of the apartment and at the Eastmont substation two blocks away.
Bouquets also were piled up outside police headquarters downtown. In the lobby, officers set up an easel with a poster of Sgts. Dunakin, Sakai and Romans. A freshly printed black T-shirt emblazoned with their pictures arrayed on a background of clouds hung from the easel. Across the top was printed “Rest in Peace, March 21, 2009.”
Thomason would not disclose any details about the ongoing investigation of the shootings, but he said that funds are being set up to help the families of the dead officers. He choked up during a Sunday news conference when he was asked to describe Hege. Then he turned and walked to the elevator.
At midday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger drove up to the Oakland Police Officers Assn. building to meet privately with Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, assorted police officers and state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, a former Oakland mayor. He stayed about 10 minutes, then left without saying a word to reporters.
Afterward, Dellums stated that the city “is reeling today from the senseless shootings of four Oakland police officers yesterday afternoon who were killed in the line of duty protecting our community’s right to live in safety and in peace.”
A dangerous job
John R. Hege’s father, John S. Hege, said in a telephone interview later Sunday that his son, a former Eagle Scout and high school physical education teacher, loved being a police officer.
“He wanted to be an Oakland policeman. I think that’s what he most wanted to do,” Hege said.
Mixon, according to authorities, had a long criminal history. In addition to a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, he had earlier convictions for marijuana possession, auto theft and a string of violations committed as a juvenile, Thomason said.
He had served nine months in prison for identity theft, forgery and grand theft before being released in November. According to state prison officials, Mixon missed a mandatory meeting with his agent last month and was deemed a “parolee at large.” A warrant was issued for his arrest.
It is not unusual for parole officers to lose contact with their charges. At least 164, or 11%, of parolees assigned to Oakland’s three parole divisions were considered at large last week, according to a report by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
“When they do abscond, the department lacks the resources to track them down, and it’s very hard to find people in a vast urban environment,” said Ryken Grattet, a UC Davis professor who has written extensively about California’s parole system.
“What just happened in Oakland is really an extraordinary event,” Grattet said. “Even for this fairly hardened criminal population, this type of violence is really extraordinary.”
Family is ‘shocked’
Mary Mixon, 65, Lovelle and Reynete’s grandmother, said Saturday’s violence had left the family “shocked, shocked, shocked.” Lovelle had lived with her since December, she said, and had been depressed recently because of a dispute with his parole officer.
“Our condolences go to the families” of the dead officers, she said as she headed to the Alameda County morgue, where her grandson’s body lay. “I know what they must be going through. No words can explain.”
The violence Saturday was among the worst of its kind since 1970, when four California Highway Patrol officers were killed in a shootout in Newhall.
In the neighborhood where the shootings occurred, there were mixed responses. Some said that such violence seemed out of character with that particular slice of east Oakland. Others said it was all too much part of the terrain.
“I do not walk in fear,” said pastor Jeremiah Captain, standing on the corner of 74th and MacArthur. The wind had wrapped a strand of police tape around his right ankle. “I have the Lord, and Oakland is one of the most beautiful places to live in the world.”
The last death of an on-duty Oakland police officer was in 2004 when William Seuis, 39, was killed in a hit-and-run crash on motorcycle patrol. Another officer, William Wilkins, 29, was mistakenly shot by two rookie officers in 2001 while he was working undercover.
Police agencies in Oakland have faced controversy in recent months. Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker announced his resignation in late January as the City Council -- unhappy with rising crime and negative publicity -- intended to call for a vote of no confidence.
And earlier this year, racially charged riots erupted in Oakland because of a shooting by another police agency. An on-duty transit police officer was seen on video shooting an unarmed man in the back at a BART station. Officer Johannes Mehserle, who is white, was charged with murder in the death of Oscar J. Grant III, who was black.
Times staff writers Ari B. Bloomekatz, Anna Gorman, Rong-Gong Lin II, Cara Mia DiMassa, Garrett Therolf, Ruben Vives and Carol J. Williams contributed to this report.