An undercover Oakland narcotics officer was shot and killed by two rookie policeman while he was arresting a car theft suspect last night.
William Wilkins, 29, a seven-year veteran of the department, was the 46th Oakland policeman to die in the line of duty since 1867 but the first killed by friendly fire.
Wilkins, a member of the Alameda County Narcotics Task Force, had caught a car theft suspect after chasing him through backyards in the 9100 block of D Street in East Oakland, police said.
Just what caused the two uniformed officers to fire at Wilkins, who was wearing civilian clothes, is unclear.
Kim Davis, who witnessed the aftermath of the shooting, said the uniformed officers were overcome with grief when they realized what they had done.
“Willie! Willie! .’.’. Just keep on breathing!,” Davis said she heard one officer say. “We’re going to get you some help.”
But it was too late.
The shooting was reported at 11:14 p.m. Wilkins died of his wounds at 2:20 this morning at Highland Hospital.
Oakland City Manager Robert Bobb said the hospital’s trauma team made heroic efforts to save him.
Police Chief Richard L. Word and chief homicide investigator Paul Berlin, both of whom appeared overwhelmed by Wilkins’ death, responded brusquely at a mid-morning press conference and left many questions hanging in the air, saying that the investigation had only just begun.
Police said Wilkins, who was working on a narcotics case, had evidently seen a speeding car and, realizing it was stolen, gave chase. In the end, Wilkins collared the suspect before the two uniformed officers, who were on the same mission, arrived.
Berlin said investigators found 11 spent shell casings at the scene of the shooting. He would not say how many times Wilkins had been shot, other than to say it was more than once.
The two uniformed officers, whose names were not released, are both in their 20s, and neither has more than a year on the force, Berlin said.
The officers are “very traumatized, and we are giving them time to collect themselves” before they are interrogated, Berlin said.
Berlin said he did not know whether the uniformed officers warned Wilkins before they fired.
Nor did he know whether Wilkins fired. “We haven’t examined his weapon yet,” he said.
Berlin also acknowledged that the department isn’t sure whether the uniformed officers knew that Wilkins had responded to the report of a stolen car and won’t until investigators examine radio tapes that figure to shed more light on the incident.
Exactly how the uniformed officers and Wilkins came into contact is murky, and neither Word nor Berlin clarified the situation.
Larry Jetton, who lives near the scene of the shooting, said the chase for the car thief went right through his backyard.
Davis, 41, who also lives in the area, said she had just gone to bed when she heard gunshots.
“All I know is that I was sleeping and heard all these gunshots boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. The shots were so intense that I thought they were coming through my house,” she said.
Davis ran out to the living room, and when she looked out her front window, she saw a man wearing blue jeans and a coat with a T-shirt underneath in her driveway. He fell to the ground as she watched. She said she saw a uniformed officer standing to his rear, with his gun trained on Wilkins.
“I don’t think (the uniformed officers) knew that the man was an officer,” Davis said. “But they soon figured out.”
Other officers soon converged on the scene, stripping off Wilkins’ clothes, attempting CPR and applying pressure where he was bleeding.
“I saw a bullet hole in his side,” Davis said.
This morning, Davis was sweeping up her living room. At least one bullet from last night’s shooting hit a wall, and a slug fell out of a quilt that had been on her sofa.
“This is scary,” she said. “Normally at that hour I would be sitting here with my kids watching TV.”
In the aftermath of what every police officer regards as one of the worst possible consequences of responding to a crime scene, Sgt. David Walsh summed up the department’s mood: “This is not a good day.”
Fernando Wilkins, the dead officer’s father, said that his son would often tell his family how proud he was to work for the Oakland Police Department.
“He loved his job,” Wilkins said. “He wouldn’t do anything else. He wouldn’t change for another career.”
Wilkins’ son, William Randolph, does not know of his father’s death. “He’s too young to understand,” Fernando Wilkins said, of the 10- month-old baby.
William Wilkins grew up in Hayward and Union City. At age 17, he followed his father’s footsteps and joined the same National Guard unit that his father had belonged to.
The elder Wilkins, who grew up in Panama, emigrated to the United States in 1964. As a National Guardsman, William Wilkins had tours of duty in Korea, Honduras and Panama.
Although his son was killed by friendly fire in the line of duty, Fernando Wilkins said he had no hard feelings toward the police department.
“We have the best regard for them,” he said. “They have put everything at our disposal.”
Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown extended his sympathy to Wilkins’ family and said that “this is the kind of tragedy we hope never happens but in the course of human events, they do happen.”
City Manager Bobb, who went to Highland Hospital and watched the trauma team’s effort to keep Wilkins alive, said he was touched that “they worked so hard to save his life” and by Wilkins’ own struggle to survive.
The last time an Oakland police officer died in a situation involving the department was June 2, 1950. In that incident, Officer James Weir, 33, was killed when the ambulance he was riding in on the way to a robbery collided with a police car at an intersection.
Berlin declined to release the name of the auto theft suspect, but indicated that he may face more serious charges as a result of the fatal shooting of Wilkins.
Wilkins is survived by his wife, Kelly, William Randolph, his parents, a brother, Fernando Jr., and a sister.
Fernando Wilkins said the funeral for William will probably take place next Thursday.
William Wilkins Jr., 8 mos. old
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