Law Enforcement’s Multiple Death Tragedies

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The tragedy began to unfold on an Oakland street around 1:15 p.m. on Saturday, March 21. Oakland Police Sergeant Mark Dunakin and Officer John Hege were both shot and killed during a traffic stop. A little more than two hours later Oakland Police Sergeants Ervin Romans and Daniel Sakai would also be gunned down when the SWAT unit was called in to arrest the assailant who had barricaded himself in an apartment building.

Two weeks later, on Saturday, April 4, three Pittsburgh police officers were murdered during a domestic disturbance call. Officers Stephen J. Mayhle and Paul J. Sciullo II were both shot and killed by a 22-year-old man wearing a bulletproof vest after being let into the home by the suspect’s mother who had called for help. Officer Eric Kelly was returning home after his shift when he was called to assist with the domestic disturbance call. As he got out of his vehicle when he arrived on the scene, he was also shot and mortally wounded.

Just three weeks later, on another Saturday afternoon, April 25, two Okaloosa County (FL) deputies were murdered while trying to make an arrest. Deputies Warren “Skip” York and Burt Lopez had gone to a gun club to arrest a man in connection with a domestic violence incident earlier in the day. As they approached the suspect, he raised his gun and fired.

Three separate incidents in different parts of the country resulted in the shooting deaths of nine law enforcement professionals in just over a month’s time. It turned what had been a relatively safe year for law enforcement into one with 20 percent more fatalities during the first six months of 2009 than occurred during the same period in 2008 (66 vs. 55).

While certainly not the norm, multiple death fatalities among the law enforcement ranks have occurred throughout history. In fact, the first such incident occurred on August 3, 1808, when two officers with the U.S. Customs Service, Ellis Drake and Asa Marsh, were both shot and killed trying to arrest a powerful group of smugglers who were using the waterways to bring forbidden products into the United States from Great Britain.

According to NLEOMF records, 1,501 officers have been killed during multiple death incidents. The vast majority (1,120) were killed by felonious assault, and the others (381) died in accidental situations, such as automobile and aircraft crashes.

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Originally published in American Police Beat, June 2009