The Worst Day

Brian Thiem 3-21-19: I sat at my computer this morning to draft my blog post for this Sunday. I first went through my normal routine of checking the world news to make sure a huge meteor was not on its way to wipe out the planet or WWIII hadn’t broken out, then scrolled through my emails and deleted 90% of them and briefly visited Facebook OPD Memorial Walland Twitter. My friends and colleagues were sharing their feelings of painful memory.

Today is the 10-year anniversary of the worst day in the history of the Oakland Police Department, the day when four officers were killed in the line of duty. That day, motorcycle Officer John Hege and Sergeant Mark Dunakin stopped a motorist for a traffic violation. Unbeknownst to them at the time, the motorist (I’m intentionally not using his name because he is not deserving of notoriety) was responsible for a recent string of rapes and was wanted on a parole violation warrant. The suspect shot both officers and then stood over them and fired additional bullets into them as they lay on the ground.

Several hours later, the suspect was located in a nearby apartment. An entry team of the department’s Tactical Operations Team (SWAT) entered the residence. The suspect opened fire with a semi-automatic SKS rifle, killing Sergeants Erv Romans and Dan Sakai, before other officers killed the shooter.

Although I had been retired for four years and living in Connecticut, the murders of these four officers hit me as hard as the ten OPD officers previously killed during my 25-year service. Times Four!

I knew these four officers well. I still picture John’s smile as he strolled by the watch commander’s office on his way to the locker room every evening during my final year as a watch commander. I can see Mark’s boyish grin as he sat at his desk in homicide when I commanded the unit. And I visualize both Erv and Dan with their game faces on, dressed in their black BDUs on countless SWAT callouts when I was the tactical commander and commander of Special Operations. OPD Memorial Wall 2

When the news hit ten years ago, I poured over the news reports of the incident from 3000 miles away and spoke to countless OPD brothers and sisters by phone over the next few days. Finally, my wife said, “You need to go back.”

I made my arrangements, retrieved my gold badge from my gun safe, stretched a black band across it, and flew cross-country. I attended two of the wakes on my day of arrival and then spent the evening at the local cop bar, where I got to share my grief with hundreds of brothers and sisters who understood what I was feeling.

The next day, I sat in a special area reserved for retired officers in the Oracle Arena along with 21,000 other people and heard countless speakers talk about the four men who gave their lives protecting and serving citizens and a community that seldom expressed gratitude. I fought back feelings of anger, trying my best to replace those feelings with pride for the way those officers lived their lives and their willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Today, ten years after that tragedy, I’m reading a newspaper article of a church service remembering and honoring these officers, another story about one of their wives who remarried and found happiness, and updates about their children, now young adults, doing okay. But the pain of the officers’ senseless deaths still lingers among my brothersOPD Memorial Wall #2 and sisters in blue, the officers’ families, and parts of the community they served and gave their lives to protect.

Writing this today, I accept the pain I feel from losing a fellow officer to a line-of-duty death will never go away. And I’m convinced it never should.

8 thoughts on “The Worst Day

  1. It’s so sad that there are people in our society that have zero regard for people especially Police Officers. My heart goes out to their families, friends and other police officers. They put their lives on the line everyday to protect us. So sorry for your loss

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for sharing Sir. You speak for many of us who can not find words as eloquently as yours to express our feeling of loss, pain, and even anger that out co-workers, friends and now heroes were so senselessly taken from us and we were all stripped of a little bit of ourselves that dreadful day. I have always looked up to you and I still do. Thank you for your service SIR!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When working in Alameda County, back in the day, I attended two full dress police funerals – both for fallen OPD officers. It was painfully moving. I was deeply impressed by the rows of officers in dress uniforms, the blue solidarity evidenced by the many, many out of region license plates, officers from afar. Today, that thin blue line is all to frayed by current activism.

    Having been in Manhattan on 9-11-2001,about 20 blocks from ground zero, my wife and I returned many times because ” never forget” is not just a slogan.

    Jay B Gaskill
    Former Chief Public Defender of Alameda County.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jay: Even though you and your office were often at odds with my efforts to send the bad guys away to prison (or in the right circumstances to death row), you were always one of the good guys when you ran the Public Defenders Office.

      Like

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