Mourners from across the country packed Oracle Arena to the rafters Friday, as the city and nation said a heavy-hearted goodbye to four Oakland police officers fatally shot in the line of duty March 21.
The funeral service for Sgts. Mark Dunakin, 40, of Tracy, Erv Romans, 43, of Danville, Daniel Sakai, 35, of Castro Valley, and motorcycle Officer John Hege, 41, of Concord, was attended by the state's highest elected officials and at least 10,000 police officers, and came at the end of perhaps the saddest week in Oakland Police Department history.
"Never in the entire 160 years of the Oakland Police Department has there been a darker day than March 21, 2009, when (the four officers) died in the course of their efforts to remove a dangerous criminal from our streets," said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Feinstein joined others in calling the slain officers "heroes" who paid the ultimate price in their quest to keep the people of Oakland safe.
"Every day that they suited up for work, they knew it might be their last," Feinstein said. "They knew they were outnumbered, outgunned and, all too often, underappreciated. But they still dedicated their lives to the cause of public safety and justice, and, in the end, they died for it."
The Rev. Jayson Landeza, Oakland police chaplain, started the service
with a prayer after the national anthem. He
read a letter from President Barack Obama.
"I was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of (the four officers)," Obama said in the letter. "Michelle and I hold their families and your community in our thoughts and prayers. Our nation is grateful for the men and women of law enforcement who work tirelessly to ensure safety for our citizens and our neighborhoods."
Police came from as far as Chicago, Boston, New York and Canada to attend the service. The arena parking lot was a sea of black-and-white patrol cars and gleaming motorcycles. The crowd inside the arena was estimated at 19,000, with at least 2,000 more watching the service on jumbo screens next door at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
With officers from neighboring cities and counties patrolling the streets, every person working at the Oakland Police Department — from the highest-ranking officers to the workers who operate the cafeteria — was able to attend the funeral.
"This is the way that we grieve," said Novato police Chaplain Patti Branscome. "Coming here today is a huge support for those who have lost fellow officers in Oakland."
Remarks by family and friends of the officers drew tears, but also laughter.Oakland police Lt. Lawrence Eade recalled a talk he had with Hege, who was a teacher before he became a police officer.
"Remember how you wondered if people would come to your funeral, like they did for (other officers)?" Eade said. "They are here for you, Johnny. They are here."
He listed all those in attendance: friends, family, former students, Oakland police and top law enforcement officials from across the nation.
"The Terminator is here!" Eade said, in a reference to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that drew the biggest laugh of the day.
The men were remembered as good police officers and good people.
Janet Saalfeld, who delivered Hege's eulogy, said she met Hege when he was only 3, already a boy who gravitated toward toy motorcycles. One day at a park, he jumped off her lap and headed for a toy motorcycle held by another child. Without hesitation, Saalfeld said, he pulled the toy from the other child and said, "My turn."
"He was determined to get on that motorcycle," she said.
Hege was transferred to the department's motorcycle unit March 7, two weeks before he was shot. Dunakin, or "Dunnie," as he was known, was recalled as the life of the party, a loyal, kind, thoughtful man who liked to joke around. Once, while escorting a VIP in Oakland and waiting for the rather slow person to make his way to the car, Dunakin jokingly told a colleague, "You can measure this guy's movement by the sundial."
It was Dunakin's turn to be the butt of a joke. He thought the VIP had heard the remark because his external speaker was inadvertently turned on.
Dunakin was embarrassed and scared, and called his supervising officer repeatedly, thinking he was in big trouble.
"He wanted to apologize to the guy," Lt. Anthony Banks said. "He said, 'I am so sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass the Oakland Police Department or myself.'"‰"
Dunakin was so worried that Banks finally came clean and told Dunakin his remark hadn't been heard.
His brother, Chris Dunakin, said as children they played cops and robbers.
"And ironically, I was always a robber and he took great pride in me becoming an attorney — to him I was still a crook," his brother said. The audience roared with laughter.
Romans was an all-business guy who could come across as moody but really was a big teddy bear, friends said. Capt. Rick Orozco called him a "perfectionist who demanded and expected excellence."
Romans set out to help people, and received the medal of valor for rescuing residents in a 1999 West Oakland fire.
Sgt. Rich Vierra said he once thought he could impress Romans with a story about fending off a baby seal in Monterey. But Romans came back with his own story about fighting off a bear to get a fish he had caught in Alaska.
Sakai was an avid outdoorsman, as well, one who never missed an opportunity for a camping, biking or backpacking trip.
He often went camping with his friend, Robert York, and the two had a pact that they would jump into any body of water they crossed. Sakai was always game, even when York wasn't in the mood.
"I think we had to chip away ice to go in some of them,'' he said.
Sakai's older sister, Toshi Kempkes, called her brother "a real cool dude."
"If you didn't know my brother, here are some things you need to know. The first thing you would have noticed was this huge smile. And then his ears, which can only be described as big," she said with a smile.
The nightmarish events that led to the deaths of four men began March 21 shortly after 1 p.m. in the 7400 block of MacArthur Boulevard. Dunakin stopped a Buick driven by 26-year-old Lovelle Mixon of Oakland. Hege joined Dunakin on the traffic stop moments later.
The exact details of what happened next are unknown, but Mixon opened fire on Dunakin and Hege, striking both men. As they laid on the ground, Mixon stood over them and fired again before fleeing the scene.
A massive manhunt ensued, and within an hour, Mixon was determined to be hiding in an apartment building near the scene of the shooting. At 3:05 p.m., a SWAT team entered the apartment, using flash-bang grenades in an attempt to stun the suspect. Mixon, hiding in a closet, opened fire again, killing Romans and Sakai before police killed him. Funeral processions for the four officers began about 8 a.m. Friday. Hearses brought the officers' bodies to the arena from the sites of their private memorials around the East Bay. At the arena, the caskets entered in the order in which the officers were shot — first Dunakin, then Hege, then Romans and Sakai. The thousands of people in the arena were pin-drop silent as Oakland police entered through an arena tunnel to take their seats. It was an unusual atmosphere in a place that's typically bustling with sports fans.
Among the dignitaries attending were U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, Rep. Barbara Lee, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, Attorney General Jerry Brown, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and mayors Gavin Newsom of San Francisco and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles.
The presence of so many officers from so many places was a touching tribute to the Oakland Police Department, and acting police Chief Howard Jordan offered thanks for the support the department received in the past week, as well as condolences to the families of the slain officers.
"These four brave, heroic, peaceful men chose a life that would necessarily include danger," Jordan said. They knew the hazards they were facing would be unpredictable and unexpected."
They were "extraordinary officers," the chief said.
"This will be their final lineup with us," he said. "They rest in peace, we know, because they were men of peace."