Doomed SWAT sergeants didn't expect an AK-47

Monday, March 23, 2009


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When Oakland police Sgts. Ervin Romans and Daniel Sakai burst into an apartment on 74th Avenue on Saturday, they knew they were entering a dangerous situation. After all, they were looking for a man who had already killed two police officers.

What they didn't know was that the killer, Lovelle Mixon, had somehow gotten hold of an AK-47 assault rifle, police officials say. All they knew was that the gunman who had shot motorcycle officers Sgt. Mark Dunakin and Officer John Hege about two hours earlier used a handgun.

"Nobody knew he had an AK-47," said City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, who was among four council members to join Mayor Ron Dellums and acting Police Chief Howard Jordan for a late-night press conference Saturday.

The bulletproof vests that Romans and Sakai wore were no help - when Mixon fired his automatic rifle through a closet door in the apartment, he hit the two sergeants in the head.

The killings of four officers would devastate any police department. But it was especially traumatic for an Oakland force that has been beefed up in recent years with a lot of young, inexperienced cops.

"We've got a really young force out there, and this is really hitting them hard," officer Bob Valladon, former head of the Oakland Police Officers Association, said Sunday as he drove from one slain officer's home to another to meet with their families. "We've hired maybe 25o new cops in the past five years, so about a quarter of the force has never seen anything like this. No one has.

"These cops (who were killed) were veterans," Valladon said. "The best of the best."

Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, current head of the Police Officers Association, said the killings bring to the surface something that runs through the undercurrent of any police station.

"Every day you go in. You look around," Arotzarena said, and "you know (there's a possibility) that someone is going to get killed. You don't know who. You don't know how. You don't know when. But you know it is going to happen to someone.

"That's just the reality of being a cop these days."

And there's another undercurrent to the cops' reaction, more particular to Oakland - some officers say they'll be looking to see whether the outrage over these killings approaches the level heard from politicians, officials and community leaders when BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant at Oakland's Fruitvale Station.

On the way: President Obama may be headed back to California soon - this time to San Francisco.

Word is, the president's schedulers are eyeing a fundraising trip to the Democrats' favorite ATM on May 27, a day after he's scheduled to hold a fundraiser in Las Vegas with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

These days, however, political fundraising is proving tricky for Obama - as well as congressional Democrats and Republicans - thanks to the bailouts they've handed to the banks and insurance industry.

Those disgraced bosses have been major contributors to both parties over the years.

"It's one of those hidden bombs that you might not even know you've stepped on until you're a year down the road," said Obama fundraiser and Democratic National Committee member Wade Randlett.

Return to sender: Fifteen ex-staffers of former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata who were caught up in a five-year federal corruption probe of their boss have appealed to Washington to drop the case.

"FBI agents interviewed some of us - in some cases, repeatedly - sometimes waiting in front of our houses, contacting our families or calling on our mobile phones during working hours," the staffers wrote in a March 18 letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

The staffers had to stay lawyered up - with the help of Perata's legal defense fund - to make sure they didn't do "Martha Stewart" time for lying to or misleading the feds.

The ex-staffers - among them longtime chief of staff Erin Niemela, legislative director Gareth Elliott and aide Chris Lehman - said they understood why the FBI and U.S. attorney in San Francisco initially investigated the allegations of possible corruption.

But after so much time and no results, they said, they have "grave concerns" now that the probe has been handed off to Sacramento prosecutors for another look - and urged Holder to hit the brakes.

The Perata investigation has looked at everything from the Oakland Democrat's links to lobbyists to his payment of campaign funds to family members, as well as his role in pushing for various contracts that might have resulted in kickbacks. Perata has steadfastly denied breaking any laws.

Hold your horses: Bad news, buckaroos - there will be no Grand National Rodeo at the Cow Palace this April, breaking a 63-year tradition.

Cow Palace CEO Joe Barkett, who took the reins at the aging exhibition hall in December, tells us he and his posse are taking a year's hiatus while they get back on their feet financially and put new management in place.

"We intend to bring (the Grand National) back in 2010," Barkett said, "and exactly what it's going to be made up of is something we are still working on."

The show will still go on, however, for the Junior Grand National on April 1, along with a bull-riding competition April 4.

Ride 'em cowboy.

EXTRA! Catch our new blog at www.sfgate.com/matierandross.

Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross appear Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. Phil can be seen on CBS-5 morning and evening news. He can also be heard on KCBS radio Monday through Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. Got a tip? Call them at (415) 777-8815 or drop them an e-mail at matierandross@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle


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