A journalist’s last day
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Chauncey Bailey woke up Aug. 2 with no premonition that this day would be his last day.
By Angela Hill, Roland De Wolk, A.C. Thompson and Cecily Burt, Chauncey Bailey Project
Chauncey Bailey had a full day ahead of him when his alarm clock rang at 6:30 a.m.
The Oakland Post editor had a dozen things to do – a couple of news stories to write, a meeting with the Post’s publisher, a beauty pageant to coordinate, a movie to cast – so he started off bright and early.
For a year and a half, Bailey had lived in a first-floor apartment near the south end of Lake Merritt. His girlfriend, Deborah Oduwa, had lived with him the past three months. Leaving her half asleep in bed, he got up and got ready for work.
Bailey was known as a snappy dresser, yet a thrifty one, often proud of his second-hand-store finds of quality pieces. Growing up in East Oakland and Hayward in a working-class family meant he appreciated a dollar.
Video: Chauncey Bailey’s final hours
On this day, he donned a blue shirt, a black-and-gray tie with matching pocket square, lace-up dress shoes with a fine shine, blue pants and a dark-gray suit jacket with a pen and a jury summons in the left-front pocket – the crisp business attire softened slightly by the short dreadlocks he’d been growing out during the past year.
He picked up his black-and-blue “Port of Oakland” duffel bag, a freebie from a press event, which he’d been using in place of a briefcase. It was stuffed with some previous editions of the Post, a Nokia cell phone, a Sony Handycam video camera and power adaptors. Bag slung over his arm, he headed out the door.
By then, it was a little after 7 a.m., a nice morning on a summer day. It was supposed to get into the upper 70s, but was still cool in the early hours. Bailey’s apartment house on First Avenue near International Boulevard was an older two-story gray building with white trim, a stone’s throw from Lake Merritt, but with no view of the water. The front of the building faced east onto First Avenue. So even this early, sunlight spilled through the glass front door and into the lobby. Bailey liked his place, and his landlord liked him. She said he was one of her best tenants.
He was off to meet his publisher and friend, Paul Cobb, at the Post’s offices, several small rooms on the 12th floor of a historic office building on 14th and Franklin streets. It’s about 10 fairly short city blocks from Bailey’s apartment, so a straight shot there at a brisk pace would take about 12 to 15 minutes; could be 20 or 25, with a stop or two.
Bailey hit the sidewalk and likely went left from his apartment house toward the lake, the water glowing gold in the sun, the downtown office buildings mere squiggles in the sheen.
At that time of day, a smattering of people are out, walking their dogs, going to work, waiting at the bus shelter at First and International Boulevard, just steps from Bailey’s front door. He sometimes took the bus, his girlfriend said, but he really enjoyed a good walk.
There was a spring in his step. At 57, he had reconnected with his father after more than 25 years of estrangment. And professionally, he had recently been named editor of the Post, a job he loved.
Bailey turned the curve onto 14th Street, the orange bike-lane barrier fending off the noise and rush of cars and busses whizzing by. He walked along 14th toward the Alameda County courthouse. There, he likely crossed over 14th to the south side of the street, after cutting through an opening in the bike barrier. He passed the main library and a building under construction at Madison and 14th.
He had five blocks to go.
Back over by Bailey’s apartment, an AC Transit bus driver was on her daily route, driving the No. 40 line toward downtown Oakland. It was 7:12 a.m. Bus drivers know exact time because they have “time points” and are expected at a certain destination at a certain moment, the driver said later in court testimony.
She had just pulled to the curb and opened her doors to take on passengers at the bus stop at First and International when she saw a slim man, about 5-foot-10, dressed all in black with a black hooded sweatshirt and a black ski mask. He was carrying a large shotgun.
“When he ran up to the bus, he was holding the gun up, pointing it at the door, and then he lowered it,” she said.
As one passenger boarded and commented on people being “crazy, running around with ski masks and guns,” the masked man appeared behind him, still standing on the curb, but looking in the open door of the bus as if searching for someone.
Alarmed to a near panic, the driver instinctively pushed the button to close the bus’s three sets of doors and pulled out from the curb, leaving other passengers still waiting at the stop. As the bus rolled off, the man with the gun walked alongside toward the rear of the bus, peering in the windows. She kept driving. Once around the south end of Lake Merritt, she stopped the bus near the courthouse. Her hands shaking, she grabbed her radio and called central dispatch. Someone there called police.
“I told dispatch I saw a man with a ski mask and a gun and that they needed to come and get the bus because I wasn’t gonna drive it anymore,” she said. “I was traumatized.”
She wasn’t the only one. A woman on her way to work, planning to drop her 2-year-old granddaughter at day care on the way, was also shocked to see a masked man with a shotgun approach the bus. In her blue 1999 Ford Escort, her granddaughter firmly strapped in the back seat, the woman had just turned north onto First Avenue from 12th Street. She was in the curb lane, stopped behind another car at the red light at International, directly across from the bus stop, but heading the opposite direction.
The man, all in black, appeared on her right and ran across First Avenue in front of the car in front of her, and over to the bus.
“He was carrying a large black assault-style rifle, holding it with both arms,” she later told police. Her signal light turned green, but before she could move forward, the masked man ran back across the street in front of her again, and up the short remaining block of First Avenue.
The woman proceeded on her route on First as it turned into Lakeshore Avenue, and stopped again at the next red light at 15th Street. She looked right, up the street.
She saw the man again, getting into the passenger side of an older white van with tinted rear windows. The rear brake lights were on. She couldn’t see a license plate or the driver. Her light changed. She drove to the day care, dropped off her granddaughter, drove to work and called her husband, who called the police.
A marked Oakland police patrol unit with two officers was dispatched to the area of Fifth Avenue and International to check out a report of a person walking on the street with a gun. The uniformed officers arrived and conducted a security check, but didn’t find anybody matching that description.
About a mile away, a white van with no license plates parked on the east side of Alice Street, almost in front of The Molonga Casqeulourd Center for the Arts, formerly the Alice Arts Center.
Bailey strolled along his usual path on 14th Street, the same street as his office building. After about a block, the red-neon McDonald’s sign appeared at his left.
Bailey frequently stopped there, and likely did that morning, his girlfriend said. Despite his taste for fast food, he was a fit guy, who looked at least 10 years younger than his chronological age. He loved playing basketball at the gym. Loved playing softball and was infamous for his trash-talking, always making sure opponents knew exactly what he thought of their skills.
He may have entered by the side door of McDonald’s on 14th, ordered his breakfast, sat down and eaten it quickly. There were things to do. If serving as editor of the Post wasn’t enough, Bailey also worked at cable channel OUR TV – which he co-founded with his good friend Leonard Stephens – and was helping out with the upcoming Miss OUR TV beauty pageant. He was also in negotiations with Lionsgate Entertainment, friends said, to turn his screenplay called “Love Ain’t Easy” into a film, and he was starting to interview local actresses for some of the parts. He was also working with a friend on a documentary about prostitution in Vietnam.
Bailey, a 30-year veteran reporter who had cut his teeth in Bay Area journalism and spent several years at the Detroit News, had weathered a rough period when he lost his 12-year job at the Oakland Tribune in 2005 for breaches of ethical conduct. It was a blow, friends said. But Bailey kept going. He did some work for the Post, traveled and freelanced some stories from his trips to Vietnam and the Caribbean.
In June, he was hired as editor of the Post, a weekly newspaper geared toward the African-American community. Bailey loved the job, said Cobb, the Post editor. Loved to have people come up to him on the street and say, “Hey, you’re the editor!”
“He was so pleased to be viewed as the person in charge,” Cobb said. “It was a real life-affirming journalistic experience for him.”
For most people, all these things would be a lot to juggle. For Bailey, it was rather routine.
In fact, it was a pretty average week all around.
His news stories in that week’s edition of the Post had been nothing earth-shattering. Bailey had a front-page byline story on African American and Hispanic homeowners getting hit hard by foreclosures. On the back page, he had written a brief profile of a man’s journey from street life to spirituality.
A few weeks before, Bailey had written a story on Your Black Muslim Bakery, its mounting financial problems and impending bankruptcy. But the piece hadn’t been published. Cobb had questioned Bailey’s use of a sole source on the story, so the article was held. Bailey may have been doing more research into the piece, but that was not unusual either. Over the years, he had written dozens of articles about the bakery, both good and bad, for the Tribune and other publications, as the once model institution for black empowerment had begun to crumble.
Bailey left the McDonald’s, probably on the Jackson Street side.
He had 28 cents remaining in his pocket.
Continuing his walk from McDonald’s, he got about halfway down the block toward Alice. For a few steps, he reportedly walked with one of the homeless guys from the restaurant, but the man had started to go on his way.
Three-and-a-half blocks to go.
A woman who worked at Hong Fook Center Adult Medical Services, at 275 14th St., parked her car in front of center’s entrance, a door with a green awning at the rear of the Hotel Oakland senior residence. She was a little early, so she sat in her car. Another Hong Fook employee was already there, standing in front of the door beneath the awning, waiting for someone to let him in.
Across 14th from the large parking lot is the two-story olive-green Maxwell Nealy building at 220 14th St., where a man was washing the plate-glass lobby windows on the ground floor. Next door is the happy yellow-and-baby-blue Starlite Child Development Center. Down 14th Street a little farther, a construction worker at a building on the northwest corner of Madison was standing near the rail of the elevator on the southeast side of the building.
Back at Alice Street, a woman was walking south, near a small parking lot on the corner, across from Hong Fook. Another woman was driving the same direction on Alice, coming from 15th.
On Alice Street, not far from the Molonga center, a man got out of the white van. He was dressed in black and wearing a black ski mask. He was holding a shotgun.
He darted across 14th Street at the intersection of Alice, just as the light was about to change. This quick motion drew the attention of the man waiting outside the door at Hong Fook. He saw the man running and thought he was trying to make the light. Then he noticed the black mask; later, he would notice the gun.
Bailey was strolling along his regular route, duffel bag in hand, approaching Alice on the south sidewalk of 14th.
The masked man, gun held in both hands, ran up to Bailey. The homeless guy who had been talking to Bailey earlier heard Bailey shout out, “Don’t shoot me!” and saw him hold up his arms.
But the masked man fired. Twice. Shotgun blasts hit Bailey once in the left side of his face, the pellets traveling up into his brain, and entering his upper-right chest, slicing through his right lung. Bailey fell to the ground, flat on his back, near the bushes on the fringe of the parking lot. His glasses were knocked from his face. Blood pooled on the sidewalk. The man began to walk away toward Alice Street, then turned as if he’d forgotten something, came back and stood over Bailey, firing a third time, this time hitting Bailey in the stomach and piercing a kidney and his liver.
The woman parking her car in front of Hong Fook had seen the gunman run across the street, toward Bailey. Even with the black knit ski mask, she could see part of his face and his eyes. She could see his hands, and thought he was African-American. The man was carrying the large black gun in both arms. She thought it looked like a hunting style shotgun, about two-feet long.
“The man ran up to a black man standing on the sidewalk on 14th,” she told police. “He pointed the gun and shot the man twice. The man fell down on the sidewalk. The man with the gun turned and started to walk away, then turned back toward the man on the ground. When he was about three feet away, he shot another shot at the man on the ground. Then he ran across the street to Alice Street and into the 1400 block, out of my view.”
She saw a woman on the street call 911 on a cell phone. She stayed in the car until the police came.
The window washer at 220 14th St. had heard the two loud pops. He turned toward the sound and saw the man in black holding a shotgun, then the third shot was fired. The construction worker at the building down the street saw it too. The woman walking on Alice near the small parking lot also heard the shots. They sounded close, so she hid behind a parked truck, terrified.
The man waiting outside Hong Fook had seen Bailey crumble flat on the sidewalk. He saw the shooting, then the gunman running north on Alice, climbing into the passenger side of an older model van parked about 15 feet south of the arts center.
The killer ran in the direction of the woman hiding behind the truck in the small parking lot. He was holding the large black gun over his left shoulder with both hands. “He ran past me and looked at me, but he kept running on Alice,” she told police. She stayed in the parking lot and called the police on her cell phone.
The woman driving south on Alice was the last to see the white van drive off. She had also heard the shots, looked up to see the man with the gun get in the van. It had no plates. There was a driver, but she didn’t get a good look. The van headed north on Alice. She called 911.
The Oakland police unit searching for a gunman near the lake was radioed to respond to multiple calls of an assault with a deadly weapon at 14th and Alice. The dispatcher gave similar descriptions of the subject, a man armed with a gun. The unit headed there, reaching the site at 7:30 a.m.. Within minutes, more police and firefighters began to arrive.
Paramedics tried to revive Bailey, but he was pronounced dead at the scene. Casings from three 12-gauge shotgun rounds were found on the sidewalk. Officers interviewed witnesses and began a search of the surrounding area for the suspect.
7:30 to 7:45 a.m.
Cobb, Bailey’s publisher, was walking to the Oakland Post that day too, from the other side of Franklin. He heard the sirens, but thought nothing of it, a common sound on downtown streets. He entered his office building and rode up to the Post’s offices on the 12th floor, settling in about 7:45 a.m.
Bailey would be there soon, and they were going to discuss the launch of a new insert for the paper, news from the faith-based community about people solving problems, to be called, “The Good News Is.” And they were to meet later that day with one of the founders of the Black Panther Party to talk about an oral-history project.
Cobb was in the Post’s office, his morning routine underway. He was still expecting Bailey, but was not terribly concerned about his tardiness. About 9:20 a.m., the phone rang. It was the Oakland police. The officer said something about Chauncey Bailey and a shooting downtown. “Oh, he’s probably out there covering it,” Cobb told the officer, not understanding the reason for the call.
The officer tried to clarify. “No,” he said. “He’s not.”
Four months later, myriad questions remain about the shooting. Shortly after the slaying, Oakland police detectives told the media they believed Broussard did not act alone, but since then nobody else has been charged in connection to the murder, and police have said little about the possible co-conspirator.