Ervin J. Romans

Mark T. Dunaki

Daniel Sakai

John Hege

Oakland Police Shootings

My Journey to Oakland

Mere words are insufficient to describe my feelings, my range of emotions, and the sense of camaraderie that I experienced during my journey to Oakland, California to say good-bye to four police officers killed in the line of duty.

My decision to attend the funeral slowly evolved over several days and was punctuated by feelings of sorrow that turned to anger and then to sorrow. At the end of the journey, my heart was filled with joy and a renewed commitment to my fellow officers and my community.

I learned of the murders the morning of March 22, 2009 while reading the Sunday paper. Sergeant Mark Dunakin, 40, and Officer John Hege, 41, both on motorcycles, stopped a 1995 Buick for a traffic violation at approximately 1 p.m. The driver, a 26-year old parolee, shot both officers in the face killing Sergeant Dunakin and mortally wounding Officer Hege. The suspect then fled on foot.

Citizens who witnessed the incident called 911 and began performing CPR. Additional Oakland police officers, California Highway Patrol officers, and Alameda County sheriff’s deputies swarmed the area.

The suspect was on parole after serving a six-year prison sentence for assault with a deadly weapon and an additional nine months for violating his parole. In addition to his extensive criminal history, the suspect had a no-bail warrant for violating the terms of his parole.

A tip led officers to a relative’s home two hours later. When negotiations to coax the suspect from the residence failed, SWAT officers made entry. The suspect, who was hiding in a closet, opened fire with a high-powered rifle killing Sergeant Ervin Romans, 43, and Sergeant Daniel Sakai, 35, and wounding a third SWAT officer. SWAT officers returned fire and killed the suspect. The wounded SWAT officer survived.

This story was buried on 8b of the Las Vegas Review Journal.

Officer Hege later died from his wounds, but not before donating his organs and giving the gift of life to several people.

I slowly came to the realization that the murders had taken place on my 56th birthday.

The follow-up story was buried on page 9a on Monday. I wrote a commentary about the incident for the Boulder City News police blotter.

On Monday afternoon, I learned that some Henderson officers would be attending the funeral, thought to be on Thursday. I would not be able to attend a Thursday service because of work obligations.

On Tuesday, I learned that the funeral was scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday morning. I decided to go.

I sent an e-mail to Chief Finn late Tuesday night and he replied immediately. He offered me the use of a BCPD black-and-white with permission for three additional officers to attend, but at our own expense. Chief Finn offered to pay for the gas from his own pocket.

My initial plan was to leave late Thursday night and drive through until Friday morning, arriving just in time for the funeral. Afterwards, I would return home. Sergeant John Glenn would accompany me. Others officers wanted to go, but duty commitments and other obligations prevented this.

Late Wednesday night, I contacted Henderson police dispatch to ascertain who was in charge of the group going to the funeral. I wanted to follow them to Oakland; we could arrive together or get lost together.

Within minutes, Detective Rand Allison called me. Rand was very appreciative that I was going to the funeral and asked me to join him and the other HPD officers. I learned that Rand, a 10-year Henderson officer, was an Oakland police officer from 1989 – 1999. Rand was a friend and co-worker of Sergeants Mark Dunakin and Erv Romans and knew John Hege. He was Erv Romans’ primary field training officer in 1996.

Rand told me that Joe Ebert, using his father’s 15-passenger van, was taking seven or eight officers to the funeral, but they were leaving at 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning. They were staying two nights and returning early Saturday morning.

I told Rand that I wasn’t leaving until late Thursday evening in a black-and-white with another officer. Rand strongly recommended that I at least stay in Oakland Friday night. He explained that the funeral would be several hours long and the Friday evening traffic would be unbearable. He even provided me with the name of a contact person at a decent motel, hard to find in Oakland, with a $99.00 rate (unheard of in the Bay Area) for officers attending the funeral. Rand strongly urged me to accompany him and his friends, but if I chose not to, to at least use his room at the hotel to freshen up and change clothes once I arrived in Oakland early Friday morning.

Within seconds of speaking with Rand, Joe Ebert called me. Joe is a close friend of mine who left our department in 2006 after serving for ten years. He transferred to the HPD with a lateral appointment, was accelerated through their FTEP program (which was not a surprise to me) and is now a detective (not a surprise, either). Joe echoed Rand’s plea for me to accompany them.

I then spoke with my bride, Judy. Without hesitation, she said that I should go with Joe and the HPD officers and stay both nights. Okay – I got the message. Maybe my idea was not a good one.

During the evening, an officer who wishes to remain anonymous, pressed a $100.00 bill into my hand and asked that I donate it for him.

Michelle Isham and Craig Tomao presented me with a $100.00 check from the BCPPA to cover expenses. I couldn’t thank them at the time because of the lump in my throat. To my fellow PPA officers: thank you so much for your kindness.

John Glenn had volunteered to accompany me to Oakland. However, I knew that he would be at work by 5:30 a.m. and immediately become busy with the “Every 15 Minutes” program for the rest of the day. I did not want to wake him, it was now past midnight Thursday morning, so I waited until 4:30 a.m. to call him. We discussed the situation for several minutes. Together, we reached the conclusion that my idea to drive over 550 miles to a police funeral and then return was not a well-thought-out plan. I would go with the Henderson officers.

I left work at 5:00 a.m. (D/C Chase, I owe you an hour). I drove home, changed clothes, packed my bags, and sought assurance from Judy that she would be okay for the next two days. I then drove to the Henderson police station at Green Valley to meet Joe and the other officers.

As I arrived in the parking lot as instructed, two men, who were obviously police officers by the way they observed me enter the parking lot and drive toward them, eyed me carefully as I approached them standing next to their vehicles. Rolling down the window, I asked, “Road trip to Oakland?” Seriousness turned to smiles as Rand and Detective David Woolman warmly welcomed me.

Within minutes, the others arrived. Detective Robert Griffin and Officer Lisa Zahnow, a member of the honor guard. Joe arrived in his 15-passenger van, courtesy of his parents, Jim and Sue Ebert. Their sergeant, Scott Hampton, was a few minutes late because of a child-care issue.

We loaded up the van with our clothes and gear and piled inside. I quickly noticed that the van, despite its roomy interior, would never hold 15 of me. The seven of us fit comfortably inside the van – personal space for all but intimate enough for conversation. The conversation was the usual police banter with teasing. I was quickly accepted into the group because Joe, while driving, announced that I was well liked by many officers and was considered to be a good sergeant. I knew that he was telling a white lie but I played along anyway.

Scott, the sergeant, was exhausted from a long night of work-related duties. We allowed him exclusive use of the first row bench seat to get some much-needed sleep. As we journeyed along, we eventually became aware of the syndrome that I have dubbed “familiarity among cops breeds flatulence”.

We stopped only when necessary and made good use of our time to re-fuel, obtain drinks and snacks, and use the bathroom.

We arrived in Oakland at approximately 7:00 p.m. and decided to check-in at the motel and then regroup in ten minutes. A quick check-in gave me time to freshen up.

While waiting in the lobby, I encountered a CHP officer and struck up a conversation. The young officer, probably 28 – 30 years old, an immaculate uniform on his muscular 6’4” frame, explained that he was attending a wedding during the incident.

His partner had assisted in evacuating one of the SWAT sergeants. He wondered aloud how he would have done and bemoaned the fact that he wasn’t there. I assured him that he would have reacted exactly as trained and would have done well. I explained that these things happen for a reason and it wasn’t meant for him to be present. I told him that any guilt would be a waste of time and energy. I used my personal experience to illustrate this.

I told him the story of my shooting and how a female deputy was out sick that night. I had insisted that she go home the previous evening because of severe flu-like symptoms. Afterwards, she expressed feelings of guilt because I was by myself when I was shot. It was very hard for me to convince her that she would have gotten in my way in a confined area and the situation would have been worse had she been there. I don’t know if I helped him with his grief, but we bade each other a teary farewell with a warm handshake.

My new friends and I formed up in the lobby a few minutes later. We loaded up into the van and were joined by the HPD officers who had flown in earlier in the day: Sergeant Tom Gasper and Officers Mike Dye, Wayne Nichols, Sean Simoneau, and Larry Janotti - all members of the HPD Honor Guard. They followed us in a rental car to the Oakland Police Officer’s Association Hall.

At the union hall - a three-story building with a vast banquet room complete with wet bar, kitchen, and outdoor patio - we were joined by hundreds of OPD officers, officers from throughout the country, and OPD civilians and volunteers. The beverages and food were served continuously and each OPD officer thanked me personally, usually with teary eyes, for coming so far to represent the BCPD. It was obvious that numerous officers remembered Rand and held him in high esteem. Rand never overlooked an opportunity to introduce me as a BCPD sergeant and proudly announced that I had accompanied him and his fellow officers to this event.

We left the union hall at approximately 9:30 p.m. Joe asked me if I wanted to go to the motel, realizing that I had been awake since 3:30 p.m. the previous day. I declined and accompanied them to the Warehouse, a “cop bar” at 402 Webster Street.

As we pulled in front of the establishment, Rand announced that he would parallel park. This brought squeals of delight from inside the van. Mike Dennis, the owner of the bar, was standing outside and quickly moved two traffic cones to allow what we thought would be a feeble attempt of a difficult maneuver in a long van. Rand executed the maneuver perfectly and we disembarked onto the sidewalk. Mike provided each of us with a token redeemable for a drink.

Inside the bar was a memorial table for the four officers. The silent glow of the candles reflecting off each picture was a solemn reminder of the recent tragedy. On the wall behind this sacred table was a memorial for all of the fallen Oakland police officers.

When Mike, the owner, learned that I was retired from the Army, he introduced me to retired Command Sergeant Major Joe Sweeney. CSM Sweeney, a 27-year Special Forces soldier with three tours in Vietnam, took me to another memorial inside the bar. This one, covering an entire wall from floor to ceiling, was dedicated to the military.

CSM Sweeney proudly showed me his name, along with his father’s and his brother’s names, inscribed on the roll of honor. Sadly, his brother had been killed in Vietnam. His father had served a career in the Navy that began in 1939. CSM Sweeney smiled when I remarked that his daddy had served in the “brown shoe” Navy.

The crowded bar was jammed with police officers – active and retired. I met a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). He informed me that his agency had sent 25 officers. I learned that the NYPD chartered a jet and flew 100 police officers to Oakland. The LAPD was sending 300 police officers.

Again, every OPD officer that we met expressed his or her gratitude for our presence. The healing process had begun for all of us. It was quite obvious that the ranks of the OPD had temporarily swelled. We were all Oakland police officers today.

As the midnight hour approached and then passed, hunger began to set in. Rand had already told us that, unlike Vegas, the bars in Oakland closed at two a.m. and if you did not eat by nine, you would have to wait until breakfast. Two OPD officers arrived at the bar and offered to escort us to a restaurant that was still open. Neither of these officers knew Rand personally, but you would not have guessed that by their actions.

They escorted us to a Mexican restaurant, using their emergency equipment judiciously. They joined us for the meal and stayed with us until it was time to leave. They then escorted us back to our motel, using their emergency equipment at appropriate times. While en route, other OPD patrol cars joined the late-night mission, thus creating an impromptu mini-parade. We thanked our brothers-in-blue and made our way to our rooms for a short nap before the funeral.

When I got to my room it was 1:50 a.m. I had been up for 35 hours - which is probably why I slept solidly until six o’clock.

I was able to spit-shine my boots, put the finishing touches on my uniform, and grab a bagel, banana and a cup of coffee from the continental breakfast downstairs before donning my uniform. We would leave the motel at eight o’clock.

While watching the local news, I learned that all of the OPD officers would attend the funeral. Officers from 15 different agencies, including the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, the Alameda Police Department, and the California Highway Patrol, would protect the city from 7 a.m. until OPD officers could return to duty later in the evening. Additionally, dispatchers from outside agencies would report for duty so every OPD dispatcher could attend the funeral. Every OPD civilian employee would also attend. When a local reporter asked a police captain how the various agencies would communicate with each other - given the different brevity codes among them - he replied, “In plain English”.

We arrived in the massive parking lot of the coliseum at 8:15 a.m. The area was already full of police vehicles and officers from hundreds of agencies. We quickly got into a long blue line that snaked around the coliseum and into the parking lot. Officers from the San Leandro Police Department served as ushers and escorts. Officers from the San Francisco Police Department provided unobtrusive security with tactical officers armed with M-4’s.

I have been to many police funerals, but nothing could have prepared me for this event.

A continuous sea of blue and tan, khaki and brown, from every state and Canada gradually and methodically filled the coliseum to capacity. The bright red uniforms of the RCMP easily identified their contingent inside the coliseum.

The overflow crowd was sent to an adjacent stadium to watch the services on giant video monitors. Minutes before the 11:00 a.m. start time, the entire force of 815 OPD officers solemnly streamed into center court. As if on cue, we all stood to honor our emotionally wounded brothers.

A hush fell upon us as the bagpipes and drums began a mournful cadence. Officers were called to attention. With the command to present arms, 19,000 police officers saluted. Each casket entered the coliseum, one at a time, escorted by friends and family members. It was a solemn scene that took over 30 minutes.

The media versions of the funeral were accurate and I cannot add much to them. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to visit the media links listed on the Oakland Police Officer’s Association home page at

These special men lived lives honorably and heroically. I did not know them but after hearing the testimony of so many officers, friends, and relatives, there is no doubt that they would storm the very gates of hell with any one of us.

At one point during the funeral, the three-year old daughter of one of the fallen officers, clutching a teddy bear, wandered from her seat and walked over to pet a police dog.

The three hour and 15 minute service ended as each casket was escorted out. There was not a single dry eye when the bagpipes’ rendition of “Amazing Grace” reverberated throughout the coliseum.

We filed out of the coliseum and into the warm spring day. I caught a glance of a police patch that I recognized. I ran to catch up with the officers who had flown in from the Sumter Police Department in South Carolina. I introduced myself as a former Lexington County deputy sheriff and thanked them for coming. They told me that a total of four Sumter police officers were in attendance.

When I called the Sumter police chief on Monday, I learned that the department had joined together last week and decided they would send a delegation. Officers who donated money for travel costs had their names placed into a hat. The four attendees were selected and the donations covered their expenses. This is by far one of the most heartfelt examples of police camaraderie that I have ever witnessed!

Before I could walk to the van in the parking lot, four separate formations of police helicopters flew over. One formation at a time – each with a single helicopter peeling off to commemorate a “missing man” – totally breathtaking!

I was emotionally drained from the services, a chance meeting with brother officers from South Carolina, and the impact of four separate helicopter fly-overs. A battery of U.S. Army howitzers rendered the final honors with a thunderous volley of three rounds.

We got into our van and followed hundreds of police vehicles out of the parking lot. The streets were lined with men, women, and children, many holding signs that read “Thank You” and “Heroes”. We headed toward our motel. On the way, we stopped along an access road near the freeway to take pictures of a gigantic billboard honoring the fallen officers.

After changing clothes at the motel, we drove to a waterfront restaurant to enjoy a meal together. We then drove to a motorcycle clubhouse managed by a retired OPD officer, Larry Robertson aka “Dirty Rob” – a take-off of the “Dirty Harry” moniker. Rob and Rand had worked together in homicide and were close friends.

For the next two hours, we enjoyed additional camaraderie laced with funny stories about Rand. The festiveness was punctuated with occasional shots of liquor - for medicinal purposes of course - and fine cigars. After the first shot, it was obvious that someone had to be the designated driver. I volunteered so the others could enjoy their last hours in Oakland.

“Dirty Rob” closed the bar and joined us as we headed back to the Warehouse. The sun was now setting on this ferociously emotional day.

The scene at the Warehouse was surreal. The streets were blocked off to accommodate the overflow crowd of 500 officers that had gathered for a final farewell. NYPD officers and Boston officers were still in their dress uniforms. OPD officers, also in uniform, were in attendance to include most of the command staff. The supervising captain of the slain officers, who had delivered such eloquent words just a few hours earlier, expressed his deep appreciation for the number and geographical diversity of officers in attendance.

The collective healing that began the previous day was continuing on this gorgeous Friday evening.

Friendly banter between New York and Boston officers - “F*** the Yankees!” and “F*** the Red Sox!” - brought howls of laughter from the capacity crowd.

While walking past one group of officers, I overheard “Vegas” in a conversation. I turned around and introduced myself to Metro officer Stephen Ouellett and Sergeant Stewart Emry. They had trucked their police motorcycles from Las Vegas to Oakland.

Steve Ouellet and I then discovered that we had a Metro friend in common – my son Jason. Other Metro officers in attendance were: Sergeant Juliana McCauslin and officers Tina Ellison (a former BCPD reserve sergeant), Rich Rundell, Brian Leahy, and Kamron Fender. Southern Nevada was well represented in Oakland.

I good-naturedly teased the Metro officers when they asked if I knew Joe Ebert, a Henderson officer. I deadpanned that Joe was my stepson. They were amazed, especially since we had already established that I was Jason’s father. I was asked the same question for three different officers that I had accompanied to Oakland. With the incredulous looks on their faces every time I replied with the same answer, I couldn’t contain my humor any longer and burst out laughing. I would gladly have adopted all of them, but realized it wasn’t necessary. We are all brothers.

On both nights, the OPD provided designated drivers and rides to the motels for any officer that over-indulged or merely in need of a ride. This was but a small part of their hospitality. Such gracious acts after such heart-felt tragedy – a superb example of the brotherhood of the badge.

The ten-hour trip home was a tad quieter than the trip to Oakland. The good-natured kidding continued, as did the sporadic flatulence. Increased familiarity among cops breeds increased flatulence. Yep, I was certainly part of a new family.

I was a stranger to all but one just 48 hours earlier. Now, the seven of us had forged a special bond. We embarked on a journey of love - we were all on our own time and on our own dime - to support Rand and his OPD family. We witnessed the outpouring of physical and emotional support by the surrounding agencies. We returned with a renewed sense of commitment to our profession, our way of life, and a profound respect for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13 (New International Version)

“Dunnie”, John, Erv, and Dan, your sudden and violent departure from this sacred earth tore a large hole in the fabric that binds us together. Your collective acts of selfless service and courage in the heat of battle brought us together and mended that fabric with threads of steel. You will not be forgotten. God bless your families and friends. Until we meet again…

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; - (from Shakespeare's Henry V, 1598).