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Bay Area, nation remembers fallen policemen on the “saddest day in Oakland Police history”

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By ASHLEY GUILLORY
Beat Contributing Writer

Over 20,000 people packed the Oracle Arena Friday to pay their respects to four Oakland Police Department officers slain by a wanted parolee in a chaotic sequence of events last Saturday.

Police officers and private citizens came from all over the United States and Canada to attend the mass funeral for Oakland Police Sgt. Mark Dunakin, Officer John Hege, Sgt. Ervin Romans and Sgt. Daniel Sakai.

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By 10:30 a.m., just 30 minutes before the funeral began, police and politicians filled a majority of the 19,200 seats in the Oracle Arena. This included the entire 815-person Oakland police force, who after an emotional week of mourning, showed up at the funeral services in force to bid farewell to four comrades who paid the ultimate price in the law enforcement profession.

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Inside, the mood was somber. Long periods of silence were broken by intermittent laughs and applause as each officer was eulogized and remembered as a public servant who gave Oakland and their personal families every moment of their lives.

OPD Capt. Edward Tracey, head of the motorcycle and tactical units within the department, thanked all the officers who came to the funeral, saying that “A senseless act of violence against one of us is an act of violence against all of us.”

Motorcycle officers Dunakin, 40, and Hege, 41, were gunned down by 26-year-old Lovelle Mixon when they pulled him over in a routine traffic stop on MacArthur Blvd. When the SWAT team arrived at the 74th Ave. apartment complex Mixon had fled to, he shot Romans, 43, and Sakai, 35, before he was killed by the police.

The turnout at the memorial was so massive that additional officers and civilians had to move to the Coliseum and watched live footage of the funeral on its scoreboard. Officials estimate that 21,000 people attended the funeral service. Law enforcement officials came from every state in the country.

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Boston Police sent a contingent of 50 officers to the service, New York City Police officers came to honor the fallen officers, and even Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers from Canada attended the service.

At 11 a.m., the pallbearers carried the slain policemen’s flag-covered coffins onto a stage as visiting officers came to attention and civilians stood in respect.

The sound of bag pipes playing blended with the beating of helicopter propellers in the sky overhead. About 20 helicopters from law enforcement agencies all over the country were set to fly over the funeral.

After the precession, guest speakers talked about the slain officers and how much they respected the police for protecting Oakland. Senator Dianne Feinstein, former Oakland mayor and Attorney General Jerry Brown and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger were among those who spoke.

“We call them heroes, and rightly so,” said Schwarzenegger.

Brown praised the officers for giving up their lives to protect Oakland citizens. “In a time of cynicism and opportunism,” he said, the officers’ sacrifice is a “tribute to what the human spirit can be.”

Friends, family and coworkers of the deceased cops held back tears as they discussed the mens’ lives. Photos of the policemen flashed on the scoreboards as they talked. Some pictures showed the officer on duty while others captured their personal lives – hugging family members or spending time outdoors.

The eulogies and slideshows painted a picture of each officer’s life.

Dunakin worked in the OPD for 18 years and was described by his brother, Chris Dunakin, as a church leader and all around goofball who liked to be the center of the party.
According to Chris, Dunakin was destined to be a police officer from an early age. “We got to play cops and robbers, but I was always the robber,” he joked.

10-year OPD veteran Hege loved sports and was once a football player and rugby player. His dream job was to ride a motorcycle, which Hege achieved when he transferred to the Traffic Operations Section of OPD.

Former Marine Romans worked with the OPD for 13 years and enjoyed hunting. Despite his tough guy exterior, he smiled whenever he spoke of his family and squirmed every time his wife gave him a foot massage.

Sakai was the youngest of the slain officers. After getting a degree in forestry and natural resources at the University of California, Berkeley and serving the UC Berkeley Police Department for five years, Sakai joined OPD in 2000. He was known as the guy who would always help others get in shape for team tests.

Sakai’s sister Toshi Kempkes said that even though he was dedicated to his job, Sakai’s priority in life was to be a good father to his four-year-old daughter.

After the eulogies, the officers’ families were given the flags off their coffins and their badges. A 21-canon salute was presented to the families, along with an honorary fly-by with 20 law enforcement helicopters overhead.

Dave Godinger, a Berkeley resident who attended the funeral, was impressed with how the eulogies captured each of the officers in a personal way.

He said that he originally attended the funeral out of sense of duty since he feels the police help keep civilization together. But he said he was not prepared for the feelings that overcame him.

“I was repressing tears all day,” he said.

E-mail Ashley Guillory at californiabeat@gmail.com. Join the California Beat on Facebook, and get breaking news headlines, story alerts and previews when you follow us on Twitter.

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