What It Was Like to Watch the Oakland Tragedy Unfold on TV

At first, details were sketchy. “Breaking News: Four OPD officers shot…two motorcycle and two SWAT…gunman also shot…No word yet on the conditions of the officers or the gunman.”

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Last Saturday’s horrific, brutal murders of four Oakland police officers have stunned all of law enforcement. Even the most battle hardened of us are stunned by the sheer magnitude and callousness of the attacks that resulted in the worst day in the history of the Oakland Police Department.

By now, you’ve read and watched the many news accounts of what happened on the streets of East Oakland in broad daylight. I live in the Bay Area, and I found out through “Breaking News” on a local TV broadcast Saturday afternoon.

At first, details were sketchy. “Breaking News: Four OPD officers shot…two motorcycle and two SWAT…gunman also shot…No word yet on the conditions of the officers or the gunman.”

Then came word that all four officers were in critical condition and the gunman was dead. News helicopter and ground footage was repeatedly aired on all five Bay Area TV stations, with a somber intensity only seen in the most critical of incidents.

TV cameras panned in on the many officers waiting outside Highland Medical Center, where all four officers had been taken. You could tell by their collective, somber faces, the worst may have happened. Those who have experienced this know the look.

In time, OPD held a news conference to say that three officers were dead, the fourth was in “grave” condition, and the lone gunman was dead. That fourth officer died days later when the family agreed to take him off the respirator and let surgeons harvest his organs for transplants. Four people have received major organ replacements thanks to the posthumous generosity of Officer John Hege and his loved ones.

Almost a week later, the tragedy still dominates Bay Area news, with details of what happened continuing to emerge as reported by TV and newspapers. The news cycle will continue today as those same reporters cover the funeral of all four officers, which will be held in a basketball arena with overflow in a baseball stadium. A lot of people—civilians and officers—want to pay their respects.

You know the story by now. Reports say the tragedy began with what was described as a “routine” traffic stop effected by two OPD Motorcycle officers Saturday at 1:08 p.m. At 1:16 p.m. a citizen reported that two officers were down in the street. OPD units rushed to the scene, both officers were rushed to the Highland Medical Center trauma center by ambulance. The suspect, armed with a handgun, was last seen running on foot from the scene. But not until he went back to execute both now helpless officers, shooting them in the head.

An immediate, massive manhunt was launched by 200 officers (OPD, Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, BART, and a number of other agencies). An airtight perimeter was quickly established, and a massive door-to-door manhunt began. OPD and Alameda SD SWAT were called in.

Approximately 45 minutes after the shootings, OPD received a tip about where the suspect lived. The address was an apartment building only a block away from the shooting scene.

Officers rushed to surround the 10-unit building, and SWAT began planning for resolving the situation. OPD SWAT determined that the best option under the circumstances was to make entry into the apartment. Snipers were posted, and a Bearcat armored rescue vehicle for cover, the SWAT entry team approaching the apartment building.

SWAT forced the ground-floor apartment door, threw in two distraction devices, and made entry. They were met by multiple rounds from an AK-47 fired through the walls from the suspect’s still unknown position.

Immediately, a SWAT sergeant went down, and was evacuated outside. Seeing this, an Alameda SD SWAT officer rushed inside to assist OPD SWAT, which was still under intense gunfire.

SWAT worked its way back to a rear bedroom and at some point a second SWAT sergeant was shot, as was a third SWAT officer. But OPD SWAT continued engaging the suspect who was proned out inside a bedroom closet in a fierce firefight, killing the suspect.

TV footage showed the Bearcat, escorted by a marked unit, racing to a nearby medevac location, where Oakland Fire Department medics began treating a visibly downed SWAT officer.

By the time the incident ended, five OPD officers had been shot: three KIA, a fourth on life support, the fifth WIA (shoulder and forehead) was miraculously treated and released.

At the time of the SWAT entry, no one knew the suspect had an AK-47, until he began firing through two walls. Turns out the suspect was wanted on a no-bail parole violation warrant (ADW/carjacking), and he was a person of interest in a murder. Only the day before the tragedy and unknown to anyone involved, DNA analysis had just made him a suspect in the rape of a 12-year-old girl in February.

A number of investigations are already underway, and undoubtedly more will follow. The experts will micro-analyze every detail of what happened, how it happened, and why it happened so possibly prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again.

In stark contrast to the overwhelming support for the fallen officers and OPD shown at vigils earlier this week, a small core of anti-police advocates is anything but sympathetic toward OPD. Instead, they reserve their sympathy for the cold-blooded cop killer and dare to equate the murders of four police officers to the killing of a young man on New Year’s Eve by a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officer.

To say tensions in Oakland between police and some segments of the community are running high would be a gross understatement.

However, the vast majority of good people, and especially the entire police community express our sincerest sympathies, prayers, and best wishes to the families, friends, and colleagues of these courageous four fallen officers.

As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman says, most people are “sheep,” preyed upon by the “predators”, protected by us, the “sheepdogs.” Now is the time for all the “sheep” to make a stand, and figure out whose side they’re on, the “sheepdog” or the “predator”.

Throughout America, in our nation’s cities, a line has been drawn in the sand between good and evil. This is a most difficult time for all of us in law enforcement, and a time to reinforce our resolve to prevail over evil.

We’re in a fight for America’s streets, and we have no choice but to prevail.

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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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