By David Hernandez, Rachel Swan – San Francisco Chronicle
Rain spattered a sprawling motorcade that glided toward 3Crosses Church in Castro Valley on Wednesday, where elected leaders and law enforcement in dress blues gathered to mourn slain Oakland police officer Tuan Le.
Four police snipers watched over the church grounds as scores of officers arrived in buses or SUVs or on motorcycles, passing under an American flag draped between two ladder fire trucks. Many looked somber or stoic, remembering the 36-year-old who was shot and killed in the line of duty.
At about 9 a.m., the first guests began streaming into 3Crosses, among them Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao and Alameda County Sheriff Yesenia Sanchez. Police from other agencies, including San Jose, Sunnyvale, Berkeley and Los Altos, filed in before the services began. About 500 Oakland officers lined up and marched in formation awaiting the hearse, rain drenching their uniforms.
Shortly after 10:30 a.m., bagpipes rang through the church as a procession of officers entered the church with Le’s casket, wrapped in an American flag.
“I didn’t have the privilege or the opportunity to personally know officer Le, but I didn’t have to, in order to know that he loved this city — and that this city loved him,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said, addressing the crowd from a stage teeming with flower bouquets.
“In the wake of his passing, so many of you have shared moving condolences and heartfelt memories about this fallen hero,” Bonta continued. “You’ve spoken about his big smile, and his kind and generous spirit. About his passion for Oakland, and his dedication to serving the community he loved so much.”
Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Le immigrated to the Bay Area at age 7, graduating from Oakland High School in 2006. By that time, he already demonstrated “a desire to serve and protect,” interim Oakland Police Chief Darren Allison said, noting that Le had followed the career path of his grandfather, a police officer in Vietnam. The chief and others characterized Le as a figure of compassion, empathy, and an unrelenting work ethic.
“He was determined to earn his way,” Le’s cousin Jennifer Ky said, recalling how Le napped in his car, working long hours at a gas station and at other jobs before he joined the police force.
After graduating from the police academy in February 2020, Le began building ties with Oakland residents at a time when trust in law enforcement was unraveling throughout the country. Two years ago, he took a post as a community resource officer in West Oakland.
He was shot on Dec. 29 after a burglary at a cannabis business on Embarcadero near Fifth Avenue. The gunman, a suspect in the burglary, was perched in a getaway car when he began shooting at an unmarked police vehicle, striking Le as he sat in the driver’s seat, police said.
Other officers rushed Le to Highland Hospital, where he died about four hours later.
Recounting that traumatic day during his speech at the funeral service, Allison drew in a long breath, a sob seeming to grow in his throat.
“December 29, 2023 — a date permanently etched in our memory,” Allison said. “A date when we heard over the radio, over the phone, over the hallways, that one of our own had been critically wounded by a heinous act. Words that all of us dread to hear, but cause us to move into action. This date will be remembered as a time when a life was cut short, and a career ended too soon.”
Steve Le, the slain officer’s uncle, delivered his eulogy in English and Vietnamese, describing the pain and despair that gripped Le’s family members when they realized they could not save him.
“Our family (is) fighting hard to overcome this pain and suffering,” Steve Le said.
The fatal shooting marked the 54th time an Oakland police officer was killed on the job and the first line-of-duty death for the police force since 2009.
Le’s death devastated the law enforcement community in the Bay Area and beyond, as well as community members, including Oakland residents and business owners of Asian descent who viewed Le as a liaison.
His death also incensed many officials and community members at a time when Oakland faces a surge in crime. Violent crime in the city increased 21% last year over 2022, while robberies went up 38% and burglaries increased 23%, according to police data.
Last week, Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price filed charges including murder and burglary against Le’s accused shooter, Mark Sanders, 27, and suspected getaway driver, Allen Brown, 28. A third man, Sebron Russell, 30, is facing burglary charges. A hearing for them to enter pleas in Alameda Superior Court is scheduled for Jan. 18.
Police and prosecutors said the shooting occurred after the same cannabis business was burglarized three times. Surveillance camera video shows the burglars broke in with tools and loaded products into their vehicles, according to court records.
After receiving a report of the third burglary, officers found an unsecured building and several suspects running from the front door toward waiting vehicles in a parking lot, according to the court records. As the suspects took off east on Embarcadero, one of them — who police identified as Sanders — shot Le.
Allison ended his speech at Wednesday’s memorial service by addressing Le directly.
“To Tuan,” he said, “thank you brother for your laughter and love, your friendship and your service. Thanks for all the times you covered us, and support us — your brothers and sisters in law enforcement. Thank you for all the times you answered the call. I know this was not how it was supposed to end, but you can rest easy. You have given us hope, you have given us love, you’ve held the line. You are a true hero. Just know we have the watch from here.”