Deadly Secrets 

How California law shields a small cadre of Oakland police officers involved in violence.

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Snipers and hostage negotiators had not made it to the scene, Mixon's location had not been confirmed, and, critically, medical support was not yet on site. But the on-site commander sent Gonzales and his team into the apartment anyway.

The team burst through the door and lobbed several "flash-bang" stun grenades. The grenades had an unexpected effect: The plaster walls of the apartment caught fire, kicking up a fog of plaster and smoke that obscured the officers' vision. Mixon opened fire from behind this screen, killing Sergeant Ervin Romans and hitting Gonzales in the shoulder. One stun grenade struck Mixon's sixteen-year-old sister Reynette Mixon on the leg, melting her pajama pants to her body.

Lovelle Mixon fatally shot another officer, Sergeant Dan Sakai, and again hit Gonzales before Gonzales finally shot and killed him. By that point, it had become the deadliest day for Golden State law enforcement since 1970.

The loss of four officers in two separate encounters with a single suspect prompted OPD to commission an independent analysis of what went wrong. The findings were excoriating, listing a host of tactical errors. A large portion of the report, however, centered on the actions of Gonzales' ad hoc Entry Team. Among the multiple shortcomings identified: The team did not need to confront Mixon, who was "contained within the apartment confines and not an at-large threat in the community."

Gonzales didn't order the entry, but he led it and, according to the report, made a bad situation worse. The report stressed that the team "was completely unprepared for this level of resistance and should have been withdrawn to safety where careful assessment could be made."

But that was hardly Gonzales' style.

Gonzales took an extended medical leave after the Mixon debacle, but has returned to duty as a robbery detective, where he still serves today. He was part of the department-wide deployment on November 5, 2010, to contain protests over the light sentence that ex-BART police officer Johannes Mehserle received for killing Oscar Grant. He was photographed that night in riot gear with a shotgun in hand.

Roger Clark, a police practices expert and former major crimes investigator for the Los Angeles sheriff, said the actions of Gonzales' ad hoc Entry Team in the Mixon manhunt demonstrate how the lack of accountability in OPD can have fatal results. "The indicator that they still have problems is the Mixon incident," Clark said. "There is a lack of discipline and a failure to work as a team, because they know there's no sanctions for it."

Oakland is one of the cities where Copley has had the most significant impact on independent civilian oversight. After extensive grassroots campaigning, the Oakland Citizens' Police Review Board was founded in 1980 to conduct open, independent investigations of citizen complaints. Although the board has been underfunded, understaffed, and handles far fewer complaints than OPD's Internal Affairs division, prior to Copley its hearings and investigations were open to the public and offered a window into police behavior.

Patrick Caceres, the current CPRB director, said Copley now bars him from releasing even past complaints about individual officers, as well as annual reports that once included identifying information.

Before Copley, people attending CPRB hearings could obtain the entire investigative packet for each complaint. The documents included un-redacted police reports, maps, medical records, photographs, and written statements — as well as the name of the police officer accused of wrongdoing. Today, CPRB hearings are still open and the reports and findings are readily available, but the complaint packets are no longer available to the public; only the name of the complainant and the case number are public.

Unlike some California police departments, Oakland police will still release the names of officers involved in shooting incidents. "We try to release information as best we can given the restrictions," Captain Paul Figueroa, head of Internal Affairs, explained. "Even with Copley, information can be given out that informs the public and protects the rights of police officers."

But watchdogs say the most crucial information — that of misconduct before shootings happen — is concealed.

Merrick Bobb, one of the nation's foremost experts on police reform, said most officers rarely fire their weapons, and the ones that do have a greater propensity to use force on suspects. "There are correlations between officer-involved shootings and other use of force incidents in the life of an officer," Bobb said.

The use of deadly force has been at the heart of tensions between police and Oakland's communities of color for decades. In 1968, OPD officers famously shot and killed seventeen-year-old Black Panther Bobby Hutton as he was surrendering following a shootout. Things have been hostile ever since. OPD has been under the oversight of US District Court Judge Thelton Henderson since 2003, after a rookie officer exposed the "Riders," a self-styled posse of rogue cops in West Oakland who allegedly beat, robbed, and framed suspects.

But records obtained through a California Public Records Act request support Bobb's analysis: A small group of Oakland police officers are responsible for a disproportionate number of controversial use-of-force incidents. Sixteen officers currently in the Oakland Police Department are responsible for 40 of its shootings from 2000 to 2010 — or, nearly half of the total 85 shootings. Misconduct allegations filed with the CPRB against these officers would have been public records before the Copley ruling; they are now confidential.

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