A report by outside experts says poor communication, lack of command control at the scene, and bad planning hampered the manhunt for a wanted parolee who ended up killing four Oakland police officers on March 21. Because many high ranking members of the Police Department were involved in the incident, members from outside agencies were asked to join
the independent Board of Inquiry. The report, which was completed in December but wasn’t made public until Wednesday, concluded that the Oakland Police Department should review its standard procedures and training techniques because a slew of protocol mistakes were made. The incident began when Sgt. Mark Dunakin and Officer John Hege made a traffic stop on 26-year-old Lovelle Mixon on MacArthur Boulevard in East Oakland. According to Oakland police, Mixon shot and killed Dunakin and Hege during the traffic stop, and then fled to a nearby apartment building. When a SWAT team entered the building, Mixon shot and killed Sgts. Ervin Romans and Daniel Sakai, according to police. Other officers eventually shot and killed Mixon. The report’s authors made dozens of recommendations after noting more than 20 errors made throughout the afternoon. Two key mistakes were that officers on the scene failed to establish central command after Hege and Dunakin were killed, the report said, and police rushed into an unnecessarily ad-hoc SWAT operation while they searched for Mixon.
Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts said he agreed with all of the 58-page report’s findings. “It’s very critical when you get on scene to slow down, isolate, evacuate, check for floor plans, make sure you have as much information as you can,” he said. “There’s no need to rush. Time is on our side.” From the very beginning, officers failed to the follow standard procedures, according to the report. When Dunakin and Hege approached Mixon’s car, they both walked up on the driver’s side of the vehicle. This was “not in compliance with Oakland Police Department training procedures or the best officer safety practices,” according to the report. Instead, officers are advised to approach drivers on opposite sides of the vehicle, Oakland Assistant Police Chief Howard Jordan said. After the two officers were shot, most Oakland police leaders went
to the hospital instead of assisting with the suspect search, the report found. It took 90 minutes for a captain or duty chief to arrive on scene. In the chaos that ensued on the scene, no command station was established, the report said. “Overall, officers, supervisors, and outside agencies did not have shared situational awareness,” the report reads. “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.”
Police evidence technicians were able to correctly identify Mixon and obtain a recent photograph, but the information was never distributed because of the lack of coordination, according to the report. The report also largely evaluated the protocol and judgment errors made by a lieutenant who was the self-appointed search leader. The lieutenant ordered the formation of the ad hoc SWAT team that Romans and Sakai were part of. Two separate officers on the scene found witnesses who placed
Mixon in the ground floor of an apartment building at 2755 74th Ave., but the lieutenant failed to speak to both of them and claimed not to know the information was corroborated. Still, the lieutenant ordered a perimeter around the apartment
building and told canvassing officers to take cover because the suspect was probably in the front ground floor apartment facing the street. A deputy chief and captains had arrived on scene by then, and all agreed to go along with the SWAT operation even though the team assembled had never trained together, the report states. The SWAT team was also still missing hostage negotiators, snipers, and tactical operations support team members, the report said. There was no
ambulance on scene. Further, the building was not formally scouted, the status of apartment residents was not investigated, and building floor plans were not consulted, the report said. The lieutenant “prematurely ordered the Entry Team to undertake a high-risk task from a position of extreme disadvantage,” according to the report. “The hasty approval of this plan by the senior commanders compounded this error.” The lieutenant justified the procedural discrepancies by saying
the threat the SWAT team faced was very low and it was highly unlikely the suspect was present, according to the report.
However, the lieutenant and other staff, said no search warrant was needed because the entry would constitute “fresh pursuit” of a suspect, which was “particularly troubling to members of the Board of Inquiry,” the report said. “It contradicts statements indicating that the staff felt there was a low probability that the suspect was present in the location of interest,” the report explained. Batts said the inconsistency represented flaws in the officers’ logic. Later, instead of retreating and reassessing after Romans was killed, the SWAT team ignored protocol and moved farther into the apartment, the report said. The entire SWAT operation was extremely premature, according to the report. Dynamic entry is a last resort used to protect people from immediate danger, but other alternatives such as using gas or negotiators were ignored. The report made 37 recommendations outlining how mistakes such as these could be reduced or eliminated in the future. Its authors suggested the Department initiate full audit and analysis procedures for every SWAT Team operation, and examine its dynamic entry policies and preferences. The California Association of Tactical Officers will begin a review soon, Batts said.
The report also said requirements and selection procedures for SWAT team leaders should be re-evaluated. Specific “officer-down” drills should be also practiced, and training in command post establishment should be provided and emphasized. The report found that a command post, which is part of Oakland Police Department policy, would have remedied many of the tactical errors, including the failure to disseminate information. In general, standard operating procedures involving entry into potentially hostile situations need to be reviewed, the report said. The report was ordered by then-Acting Police Chief Howard Jordan in an effort to understand how “the deadliest occurrence in the history of the Oakland Police Department” came to be and to examine what can be done to prevent a similar incident in the future.
Oakland Police Officers Association President Dom Arotzarena said in a statement today, “Although decisions made by members of the Oakland Police Department may be criticized, the decisions were made at a time when the lives of citizens and police officers were at stake.” “The OPOA will continue to support all of its members and the families of our fallen brothers who were involved in the tragic events of March 21,” he said.
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