Oakland police shootings stoke criticism of parole oversight
Lovelle Mixon spent much of the last decade cycling in and out of state prison. His last stint ended in November, when he was released on parole.
By the time Oakland motorcycle officers pulled over the 26-year-old former janitor Saturday afternoon, he was a wanted man again -- this time for missing numerous appointments with his parole officer.
Authorities say Mixon opened fire on the two officers, killing them and later fatally wounding two SWAT officers who stormed the apartment in which he was hiding.
The case is raising new questions about the state’s parole system, which critics say does a poor job of monitoring offenders once they leave prison.
There are more than 16,725 people in California wanted on various parole violations -- including 164 in Oakland and 6,532 in Los Angeles County.
California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, a former mayor of Oakland, said authorities have long struggled to monitor the movements of parolees such as Mixon -- violent offenders with a pattern of committing new crimes.
“I think that’s one of the darker secrets of the whole prison industry, that the . . . people who are let out are not well-supervised in many cases, although not all,” Brown said. “The supervision isn’t there. The surveillance isn’t there. The job training and preparation is not there.”
Officials fear the problem will get worse if budget cuts cause the early release of more inmates from jails and prisons.
There are about 122,000 parolees on the streets in California, according to the most recent report from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. About 12% of them have violated the terms of their parole and are considered at large. Warrants have been issued for their arrest, but many will remain on the streets for weeks and months.
The parole officer handling Mixon’s case was responsible for 70 parolees, 18 of whom were classified as high-risk. Experts say the 70-to-1 ratio is average for parole officers in large California cities.
Oakland police spend much time looking for wanted parolees, Brown said, taking away from their other crime-fighting duties.
“When I was mayor, there was a third of the parolees, from the moment they get to Oakland, they’re on the run,” he said. “That then burdens the police with having to chase them as well as doing their other work.”
Scott Kernan, undersecretary of operations for the Department of Corrections, said Monday that the state’s 2,200 parole agents generally do a good job of tracking their parolees, as well as helping them find jobs and integrate back into society.
“This is obviously a terrible tragedy,” Kernan said of the four officers’ deaths. Corrections officials released a timeline showing at least eight contacts between Mixon and his parole agent after his release Nov. 1. Mixon had served a nine-month sentence for violating the terms of his parole.
Mixon had previously served a six-year state prison sentence for assault with a firearm. He was also a suspect in a murder in Alameda County, but prosecutors did not have enough evidence to charge him in the case, Kernan said.
Earlier this year, Mixon submitted to a series of drug tests and was referred to two employment agencies.
But on Feb. 18, his parole agent showed up at his mother’s home and was unable to locate him. After two additional attempts to contact Mixon, authorities on Feb. 27 issued an arrest warrant, and the state revoked his parole. His case was referred to the state’s Fugitive Apprehension Team.
The week of March 6, the team and Oakland police officers visited three addresses where Mixon was thought to have been, including his mother’s home. A week later, state officials contacted U.S. marshals after receiving a report that he could have been in the Auburn, Wash., area.
It turned out Mixon was in Oakland all along. On March 21, he was pulled over for a routine traffic stop, leading to the shootings that ultimately claimed the lives of four Oakland police officers, along with Mixon. Oakland police said Monday that a day before the shooting, detectives had connected Mixon’s DNA to an unsolved rape case. It’s unclear whether the two motorcycle officers knew this when they pulled him over.
Brown said officials need to be more selective about granting parole to violent offenders -- and more aggressive about tracking them once they leave prison. At one point, the department tried a pilot program of placing GPS bracelets on gang-member parolees to monitor their movements. It was not continued.
“The big failure is in the preparation of the people they release,” Brown said. “And in the control and supervision of the people they release. This is a problem not just for Oakland but for the whole state.
L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca said local authorities need to work more closely with parolees to get them reintegrated into community life.
“You have to start with programming,” Baca said, referring to job and other social programs for parolees. “Without that contact, you are [adding to the] paranoia that they are going back to prison. It puts law enforcement in the direct line of fire.”
Times staff writers Richard Winton and Garrett Therolf contributed to this report.
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Percentage of parolees who have arrest warrants, by parole office*:
* Inglewood... 18%
* Oakland... 10%
* San Fernando Valley/ Van Nuys... 14%
* Santa Ana... 20%
Source: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
*For week of March 11