Officer Timothy Scarrott saw him again each morning when he woke up: The man in the gray sweatshirt. He was pointing a gun at the other guy’s head. Then he leaned forward as if he was about to fire.
On this particular morning in early February 2002, the image was fresh in Scarrott’s memory. But this time, he had to replay it out loud in a sworn deposition. Flanked by his attorneys, the 24-year-old patrol officer took his seat inside a downtown conference room.
“I hope you can bear with me,” the rookie said. “This is my first deposition.”
The attorneys took Scarrott back in time to the night of January 11, 2001. He had been on the force for only four months, but already had developed a nightly ritual. He arrived in the locker room around 8 p.m., polished his badge and boots as usual, and read the bulletins before the lineup, where he’d get his assignment from the shift supervisor.
That night he’d ride with Andrew Koponen, or “Kop,” as the guys called him. At 29, Kop was older than Scarrott, but also a rookie with just four months of experience. The two were assigned to one of the city’s toughest ‘hoods, Beat 34 — the flatlands of East Oakland.
Unknown to both of them, another young officer had prepared for duty in the locker room earlier that afternoon. Unlike Scarrott and Kop, he’d already made a name for himself. Willie Wilkins, 29, had seven years under his belt and a reputation as good police. The man worked overtime, undercover, Beat 34 — didn’t matter, friends said. At his locker, Wilkins bumped into his friend of seventeen years, Officer Torrey Nash.
Nash could tell Wilkins was going undercover. Instead of police blues, he wore a gray Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt, loose jeans, and gold hoop earrings. The olive-skinned Wilkins had trimmed his goatee, stuffed $280 in his wallet, and carried his personal gat, a chrome-plated model that was a far cry from the department’s lumpy black Glock. Beneath his shirt, Wilkins wore his badge on a military dog-tag chain. He rolled out of the parking lot in a silver Dodge Durango.
As Scarrott recalled how the night began, he admitted replaying the events in his head to maddening lengths. Each time he reviewed where he and Kop started out, how the night ended, and how they got there, he couldn’t imagine doing anything differently. It was an accident, he said. It wasn’t bad policing. He did what he was trained to do. It was just how things went down.
Exactly what went down that night is still in dispute. Even Scarrott and Kop, who stood less than fifteen feet apart during the shooting, remember it differently.
Officer Nash, Wilkins’ longtime friend, recalled it yet another way. In the eyes of this ten-year veteran, Wilkins was in the process of making a textbook arrest on a high-risk suspect when the rookies breezed onto the scene and opened fire.
In any case, the whole episode lasted about five seconds, perhaps ten or fifteen. Everyone’s recollection differs, depending on their vantage point. And even though the officers and the two other eyewitnesses won’t talk about it now, their versions are laid out in lengthy court depositions and police reports — all of which, varied as they may be, converge at the same tragic ending.
“I had hoped when he turned around and looked at me, I thought maybe he’d drop the gun,” Scarrott said. “Maybe he knew we were the police. Maybe he’d give up, and at least lower the gun and point it at the ground and drop it. But when he turned around and looked at me and didn’t drop it … I didn’t know what he was going to do.”
Scarrott and Kop didn’t know each other well. Both were stocky, well-built guys who’d ridden in the same car a few times in late 2000, but had never socialized outside work. On the day after the shooting, both spent hours with Concord psychologist Robert Flint, who specializes in dealing with cops. Flint soon diagnosed both men as having post-traumatic stress disorder and suggested they visit the On-Site Academy in Gardner, Massachusetts.
The academy was the only place of its kind in the country, a shrink house for cops and firemen who were having trouble coping. Five days of group therapy. No booze, TV, or Internet, just wall-to-wall counseling sessions. No cop wanted to end up there.
The counselors told the rookies that to heal, they would need to get back into the routine of police work.
They’d need to put on their uniforms, go to the range, and fire their guns. Still, even while counseling together, the two men didn’t so much as share a meal, and kept the details of the shooting to themselves. “We talked about how we felt about things,” Scarrott recalled of the counseling, “not specifically about the incident.”
Neither man had imagined anything like this when they joined the force.
Scarrott grew up in Fairfield, and wanted to become a cop after high school. He got an AA degree in criminal justice from Solano Community College and applied to departments all over California when he was 21. In 1998, the Oakland department took a look at the young man, but he came up short. Scarrott recalled a sergeant telling him the OPD was looking for guys with “more life experience.” While he waited for other police departments to respond, Scarrott sold car stereos and installed car alarms. One year later, the OPD called back.
At the academy, Scarrott was asked how he would deal with it if he had to take a life. “It scared me,” he recalled in his deposition. “I was raised a Christian, and in the Bible, ‘Thou shalt not kill.'”
Kop was a little more seasoned when he got hired. He grew up in Livermore, and took ride-alongs with BART cops just for fun. He graduated from Humboldt State with a degree in political science, and joined the Army. He was hired by the Oakland department in 1999, but took time off when his unit was sent to the Middle East. “When I came back, the sergeant said, I think, basically, ‘Wanna ride with him?'” Kop recalled of his meeting with Scarrott. “And I said, ‘Sure.'”
On New Year’s Eve 2000, the pair had their first memorable experience together. They responded to a domestic violence call, and found a wild boyfriend choking his girlfriend and smashing her head against the front door. A fight between the officers and the man lasted “several minutes,” Scarrott said. It wasn’t much, but the partners had gotten a taste of the streets.
They’d been trained that things happen quickly on the job and that keeping a level head was key. But when shit got hot, the mind could play tricks. In Massachusetts, when Scarrott and Kop replayed the shooting, they saw how unreliable their memories were. They learned about the phenomenon of “temporal exclusion,” when the mind, under duress, misjudges lengths, distances, and time frames. And they learned about “auditory exclusion,” when the mind blocks out sounds, words, phrases.
For Scarrott, time had distorted to slow motion. Kop had it worse. Time froze on him.
Thursday nights, when the department’s staggered workweeks overlap, are always well staffed. Generally, there are more cops than patrol cars. Since veterans get to pick the best shifts and beats, the graveyard rotation in East Oakland’s “Dogtown” usually falls to the new guys. They call it that for all the pit bulls that guard the one-story homes. It’s also not unusual for stray dogs to end up roaming the neighborhood in packs.
Scarrott and Kop had both worked the beat sporadically, and Kop was the first to admit that he wasn’t an expert on the lay of the land. “I would say I was getting there,” he recalled.
The pairing of two rookies wasn’t uncommon. Both men had already completed fifteen weeks of field training with established vets — three more weeks than most California departments require. And since Oakland allowed guys to pick their partners by the shift, finding two newbies together on the night of the week with the most manpower, in the worst part of town, on the graveyard shift, was not unusual.
Unsurprisingly, the night of January 11 started out with a domestic disturbance call. Scarrott was driving. “Whoever might be closer to the wheel drove,” he said. “It just happened to be me.”
At about 11 p.m., they arrived at a house near the railroad tracks at 105th Avenue and Acalanes Drive, where a woman said her ex-husband had threatened her with a gun. He’d driven off in a van before the officers arrived.
One minute later, dispatch radioed Scarrott and Kop: Based on a description of the van, the husband had been arrested at an intersection a few miles away. Now the two cops needed to transport the woman to anonymously identify the man before they hauled him to jail for the night.
But before they headed out, a radio transmission caught Scarrott’s attention. An officer was in pursuit of a stolen vehicle. He wasn’t far away, either — somewhere around 90th Avenue. But since cops were holding the husband for them, he waited to radio those officers that they’d soon be on their way with the wife.
But the car chase soon escalated. The white Jeep Cherokee was getting away. “We lost it in the area of 90th and B,” Officer John Parkinson reported.
Scarrott and Kop figured their fellow cops would need a perimeter, a typical strategy for encircling a fleeing suspect. Another broadcast came, and this time the officer was short of breath — a foot chase, Scarrott realized.
“We have to go do something,” Scarrott told the woman. “We’ll be back as soon as we can. “The two cops left the house and got in their patrol car. Scarrott radioed dispatch that they were going Code 3 — full lights and sirens — and headed toward the corner of 91st Avenue and B Street. They’d be there in minutes.
On any given night, about fifteen to twenty undercover officers work the streets of Oakland. Rank-and-file officers are not told about undercover operations so the element of secrecy cannot be compromised. Uniformed cops typically have no idea who is out there or what might be going on.
Willie Wilkins was working overtime that night as part of the Alameda County Drug Task Force. His job was to watch a suspected drug dealer’s house on 90th Avenue near B Street. Wilkins crept close to the house in his SUV, while four patrol cops stayed a few blocks away.
Wilkins had wanted to go undercover since he was a teenager. While attending Union City’s James Logan High School, he and some friends even made a rap tape entitled Undercover. So sure was he that he wanted to work in law enforcement that he joined Oakland’s cadet program at age seventeen, where he bought booze from liquor stores while the real cops waited in the parking lot to bust the owners.
He joined the same National Guard unit as his Panamanian immigrant father, and graduated from Oakland’s Police Academy at age twenty — too young to get hired, but at least he had his training out of the way. He landed his first patrol job at 22, and his rise through the department was quick.
When Wilkins went out to work on the night of January 11, he left behind his wife, Kely, and their ten-month-old son, Willie Jr. The back seat of his SUV had all the trappings of a gym rat: workout gloves, diet supplements, a Nike training bag, and a softball mitt. Tucked beneath the seat was a bulletproof vest.
At about 11 p.m., after a couple hours of watching the suspected dealer’s house, Wilkins and his fellow officers decided to pull the plug. Officers Parkinson and Marcus Midyett drove around the back of the house on 90th Avenue, while two other patrol cops pulled up to the front to flush out their prey. Just as the officers had planned, two suspects bolted from the back of the house. Parkinson and Midyett caught only one of them.
The partners cuffed their suspect and stuffed him into their patrol car shortly after 11 p.m. They were considering which way to hunt for the second when Midyett looked up and saw a speeding white Jeep Cherokee pass by. Wilkins chased close behind in his Durango.
Over the secured tactical radio channel that the five officers were using that night, Wilkins blurted, “Are you catching this?” and reeled off a license plate number. Parkinson ran the numbers on his patrol car’s computer; the Jeep was stolen. He switched over to the regular radio channel to broadcast the crime in progress.
Meanwhile, Wilkins rattled off a description of the suspect’s clothing: red knit cap, white shirt. Wilkins didn’t identify himself over the radio. In the heat of pursuit, it wasn’t unheard of for a cop to drop his ID when the action speeds up. For cops who knew Willie, it was clear that it was him.
Around D Street, not far from where the chase began, the suspect dumped the Jeep and ran. Wilkins radioed on the tactical channel: The suspect was running north through backyards toward 90th Avenue.
Wilkins switched over to the regular broadcast channel, but again didn’t give his call sign. He wanted to corner his suspect. “Give me someone on 91st Avenue.”
Midyett and Parkinson steered their patrol car up 91st Avenue and caught a glimpse of the runner. Even before they could talk about a perimeter, Wilkins was ahead of the plan. “I’ve got the north perimeter covered,” he radioed.
After dropping off Parkinson, Midyett took a position at 90th Avenue and D Street and waited.
Moments later, he heard gunfire.
Demetrius Phillips grew up on these streets. An eighteen-year-old whose five-foot-six, 140-pound frame made him look more like a middle-schooler, he lived over on 87th Avenue with his grandmother. He’d been expelled from Castlemont High School in the eleventh grade, and had just been hired at McDonald’s on Hegenberger Road.
Phillips was out hunting for fun. Everyone knew that stolen cars got dumped in Dogtown, around 89th and A, just a few blocks from his home. On dull Thursday nights, he would go out with friends, pick up a dumped car, cruise around, smoke pot, and dump it again.
That night, he and his friend Rob found a white Jeep Cherokee with the window smashed and the steering column mangled. He got it started with a screwdriver, but had driven only one block when he saw the drug bust going down. Phillips saw three or four patrol cars parked in front of a house, putting an arrest on someone.
The two didn’t like the heat. Rob got out and took off for the night. Phillips drove a few more blocks when a silver Dodge Durango pulled in behind him. The car pulled up on him quick, shining its high beams and tailgating his bumper.
Phillips drove three or four blocks on 91st Avenue, screeched to a stop just past D Street, and ran for it. He hopped fences and ran through backyards, pit bulls be damned. He ran up from D Street to B Street, unknowingly heading back toward the drug bust. He landed in a backyard between 90th and 91st. Somewhere along the way he lost the red knit cap. He couldn’t hear any cop cars, and saw no one behind him.
He walked out from the backyard to the front of the house, and took a look both ways down B Street. The coast was clear. He felt relieved. He turned toward 90th and started to walk. Maybe he’d go back home, he thought, call it a night. He pulled a Black & Mild cigar from his pocket and lit it.
As he headed toward the corner, he saw a Hispanic-looking guy out for a stroll in a black coat with a gray hooded sweatshirt underneath.
As the two passed, the guy stopped directly in his path and ordered him in a loud voice to “Get down on the ground.”
Phillips paused, then asked, “Who the fuck are you?”
Scarrott and Kop were on their way. Dispatch gave them a description of the perp: Hispanic male, tan clothing, red knit cap. Dispatch also told them to hold the corner at B Street and 91st Avenue, but when they arrived, another patrol car was already there.
Kop thought it was a stupid plan anyway, and told his partner as much. The perp was last seen running in the opposite direction. So why put them on that side of the street? Still, when they got to the intersection, Kop’s plan was to open his door, get out, and hold his post on foot.
Just as he squeezed the door handle, he felt the patrol car accelerate and head down B Street.
Scarrott didn’t respond to his partner’s complaint about their position. He figured he’d just drive past the other unit and find an empty corner that needed a patrol car.
Just then, Scarrott looked down B Street and saw two guys standing in front of a driveway. He punched the accelerator and aimed the car in their direction. He didn’t think the two men were part of the chase. His plan was just to check ’em out, send them on their way, and keep the streets clear.
He saw a Hispanic guy in a gray sweatshirt walking with clenched fists toward a skinny black male. Scarrott pulled up to the two men in the driveway and angled his car at 45 degrees. Through the windshield, he saw the Hispanic man land a vicious kick to the black dude’s stomach, knocking him to the ground.
Scarrott got out of the car. “Hey,” he shouted.
But the guys paid no attention. Scarrott thought it was odd that they ignored him. He expected one of them, at least, to look in his direction. He thought he’d need to get in the fight and separate the two.
Scarrott approached, focusing on the men. He heard Kop get out of the car, too, but lost his partner in his peripheral vision.
The guy in the gray sweatshirt had his back to the officers. The black kid on the ground faced them.
Scarrott saw the kid clutch his stomach with one hand, then raise an open palm above his head, his eyes enlarged with fear.
The guy in the sweatshirt had pulled out a chrome-plated gun and was pointing it at the kid’s head.
Kop didn’t know why his partner had punched the gas pedal. He looked up, saw nothing, and felt the car jerk to a halt half a block later in the middle of B Street. Then Kop looked through the windshield and saw a guy in a gray sweatshirt kick a skinny black guy in the stomach for no reason.
“My gosh,” Kop thought to himself. “He just kicked that person … and right in front of us.” He got out from his side of the patrol car, intending to arrest the guys but not assuming they had anything to do with the stolen vehicle call. He began to trot toward the aggressor and got within ten feet of him when he saw the man pull out a gun.
Kop saw the black kid drop to a knee and raise his hand above his head. “Tim,” Kop yelled out, “he’s got a gun!” Kop thought to himself, “This is it. He’s going to kill him in front of us.”
The officer braced himself and thought, “This person’s blood is going to splatter me.”
Scarrott couldn’t see his partner, but he heard him yell, “Tim, he’s got a gun!” and then, “Freeze. Police.” He recalled himself yelling “Drop the gun!” four or five times.
Then the guy in the sweatshirt turned his shoulder toward the officer, took a look at the cops, and then turned back around. Scarrott saw him straighten his arm as if he were about to shoot the guy on the ground.
“When the man in the gray sweatshirt looked at me and then turned back,” Scarrott later said, “the man on the ground appeared to wince as if he knew he was going to get shot.”
When Phillips asked the guy in the sweatshirt “Who the fuck are you?,” the guy had decked him across the right side of his chin, he recalled later. The punch knocked the cigar clean out of his mouth, and as the teenager stumbled back, he noticed his attacker steady himself. Then the guy karate-kicked him in the stomach, putting him on the concrete.
Phillips clutched his stomach and saw a stream of steady white headlights pull up behind his attacker. He looked up at the guy and saw a gun barrel aimed directly at him. “I thought he was going to shoot me,” he later recalled.
He raised a palm to defend himself.
Then he heard a voice yell, “He’s got a gun!”
Officer Torrey Nash had last seen his friend Willie Wilkins hours earlier in the locker room. Now, around 11 p.m., Nash was finishing up a supplemental report for another cop out on East 14th Street when he heard the radio — a stolen car in pursuit. Since he was close, Nash figured he’d help with the perimeter, and drove toward the action. A few minutes later he arrived at the corner of 90th Avenue and B Street.
Straddling the corner allowed Nash to look down both streets. He held the position for about two minutes, by his count, when he heard a commotion and looked down B Street toward 91st. It was dark, but he saw a male figure illuminated by the street light. Then he saw two men in a driveway.
Nash focused his eyes and heard a man’s voice yelling “Get on the ground!” several times. He figured his fellow officers had found the suspect they were looking for, so he got back in his car and drove along B Street to get closer to the figures. He stopped about fifty feet away and crouched in the V of his car door. He unholstered his gun, took a few steps toward the men, and then recognized one of them — it was Willie. He recognized the clothes and, more importantly, the movements of a cop.
Another patrol car came up the other side of B Street and pulled up closer to the two men. Two cops jumped out, and Nash heard a lot of yelling. Someone said, “He’s got a gun, drop the gun,” and “Get your hands up, drop the gun.”
Nash looked at the suspect’s hands for a weapon and backtracked to his car for cover as he drew his own gun. Then he realized the yelling was directed at Willie.
“I looked in the general direction of the screaming,” Nash said later, “and without speaking to anyone in particular, I said, ‘He’s a cop’ or ‘It’s Willie. ‘” Nash described his words as loud, but not a yell or shout.
Then he heard gunshots.
Scarrott had pulled his weapon. The guy had turned toward him, looked back at the guy on the ground, and straightened his arm.
“Our eyes met,” Scarrott said. “I was yelling ‘Drop the gun’ as he looked at me.”
He heard Kop shoot first. It sounded like one long shot to him, like “a long balloon pop rather than a pop or a crack you’d expect to hear from a gun.” Then he fired his own Glock and claimed he saw the slide eject the first casing into the air, which he knew was impossible except in slow motion. He fired until the guy in the sweatshirt fell backward.
“Time seemed to stop,” Kop later recalled. “And my eyes focused on that gun. It was almost like a tunnel right to the weapon. I don’t even remember hearing myself shoot. … I never heard anything at that point.”
Kop fired several rounds. When he was done, he rushed behind the car’s engine block for cover. He didn’t know how many he’d fired, but he didn’t stop until the guy fell.
From his spot behind the car he shouted orders he’d learned in the academy at the suspects. “Drop to your knees! Hands out! Spread your legs!”
Kop noticed that the man they’d shot did what he was told. He got on his stomach and spread his legs. The other guy, though, kept his hands under his chest. Kop provided cover from behind the car while two patrol cops ran past him to handcuff the suspects.
Nash thought the shots were coming from behind the two officers. He thought maybe the shots were coming from friends of the man Willie was arresting. Yet once his eyes had a chance to adjust, he realized the two cops were shooting at Willie. From the corner of his eye, Nash saw Wilkins’ body moving backward. “He fell on his back, his head hitting the concrete first, and then his back,” Nash recalled. “And then his legs and everything followed.”
Scarrott got on his radio. He gave his call number, requested ambulances, and reported a Code 7 — an armed suspect on the scene. “1-Adam-34! 1-Adam-34! 40-B! 40-B! Shots fired! 9-2-6. We’re at 34 — We’re at 91 and B. We need a couple of Code 3 ambulances. We got a Code 7 suspect. Shots fired.”
A moment later, Scarrott reported all officers were safe, using the slang for fellow cops, “RO.”
“34, shots are fired, all ROs are okay. We don’t know who’s hit. We’ve got one weapon. Ahh, just send some ambulances, we got enough ROs … one of the suspects is hit.”
Veteran Officer Sean McClure ran from the corner of 91st Avenue and B Street, past Scarrott and Kop, and cuffed the Hispanic perp on the ground. McClure and another officer lifted their suspect to pat beneath his body.
Kop watched the arrest from behind the car. As McClure raised the suspect’s belly, he saw something shiny tangled in the perp’s clothing, up near his neck. It was a badge — a police badge.
Then it hit him. “He’s an RO,” Kop yelled out.
He prayed that the cop had his vest on.
For a moment, Nash thought the man who got hit wasn’t Willie — couldn’t be. He moved toward the two suspects on the ground with his gun drawn. McClure had already cuffed the one who had been shot.
“I told them, ‘That’s Will,'” Nash recalled in his deposition. “But no one acknowledged what I said. I put my gun away and ran to Officer Wilkins.”
McClure looked down at his catch.
He’d known Willie Wilkins for eight years. He turned the man over to look at his face.
It was Willie. His eyes were glossed over. He was breathing, but he couldn’t talk.
McClure set him down and uncuffed him. “Don’t die on us, Willie,” he yelled. “Keep breathing, Willie, keep breathing. Don’t die on us.”
Phillips had clenched himself into a fetal position when the shooting began. After it was over, he raised his head slowly. A cop dropped a knee on him and cuffed him.
The guy who once held the gun to his head was on the ground now, far away from him, with smoke rising from his body. Phillips heard the guy mumble.
“Fuck y’all,” the guy said. “Y’all killed me.”
Nash gave Willie CPR. McClure helped. Willie’s eyes were still open. His clothes were torn up from the bullets.
The smell of gunsmoke clouded the street. A flood of sirens and lights approached the sidewalk where they worked.
Another cop got on the radio. He called for an ambulance and screamed to keep the area clear of vehicles.
“We need a Code 3, gunfire, with an officer down,” he said.
Scarrott got weak in the knees. He felt like a weight had landed directly on him. Zoned out, he watched the rescue attempt. McClure looked up and noticed. He pulled Scarrott up by the back of his shirt and led him to a patrol car. Then McClure returned to Wilkins.
Officer Jason Scott, who’d worked the drug detail with Willie, approached Kop, whom he found sitting next to some bushes across the street. The rookie thought he was the only one who had fired a gun.
“C’mon, Kop,” Scott said. “Let’s get you to the car.”
In the following days, Scarrott and Koponen learned that they’d fired at least twelve shots. Nine bullets hit their target — eight in the back, the final one grazing his thigh. According to medical records, in the ambulance Wilkins was “responsive” to medics en route to Highland Hospital, although he tried to yank out an endotracheal tube. Ultimately, he suffered cardiac arrest on the operating table and was pronounced dead at 2:20 a.m., a little more than three hours after he was shot.
The killing jarred the department and put the brass in an unpleasant position. On one hand, they had to maintain Wilkins’ upstanding reputation and martyrdom as a fallen hero. On the other, he’d fallen at the hands of his own brothers. Who was at fault? Oakland Lt. Paul Berlin was careful with his words to the San Francisco Chronicle: “Both officers gave a command to the individual with the gun to drop it. … The officers made a decision as they were trained to, to use lethal force to stop the threat.”
According to an attorney close to the case, the department’s Shooting Review Board found their actions justified. Two months after the incident, Wilkins’ wife Kely filed a lawsuit against the department and Scarrott and Kop, claiming the rookies used unnecessary deadly force. She hired Johnnie Cochran’s law firm, which filed a suit that claimed, “The officers’ decision to fire was made so quickly they did not have time to reasonably assess the situation prior to employing deadly force in the manner in which they did.”
Torrey Nash’s recollection has become a focal point for the plaintiffs. If attorneys can prove that Scarrott and Kop should have known Wilkins was an officer, they’d make a stronger case at trial, which could start later this year. Nash said Wilkins’ movements were consistent with an officer’s actions during a high-risk arrest. In fact, Nash was moving in to assist Wilkins when the shooting started.
“I thought they would understand, you know, another officer when they saw him by his demeanor and mannerism,” Nash said. “The position that Officer Wilkins was standing in, again, offset to his left and a matter of steps, is textbook on how we perform a high-risk arrest detention.”
Also, Nash said he offered a warning. “When I said, ‘He’s a cop,’ I do not know if I said it loud enough for the officers to hear me,” he said. “It was more of a nonchalant gesture because I knew that Officer Wilkins was a police officer.”
Demetrius Phillips also has become a critical witness. Phillips, whose actions in this story were based upon the statement he made hours after the shooting, later changed his account significantly. In subsequent depositions, he said he was beaten after the shooting by officers who blamed him for “killing a cop.” He also said that the detectives who initially interviewed him made statements off-tape to coach his testimony.
Phillips now claims that he’d watched Wilkins pull down his hood, turn to the cops behind him, and say, “It’s me, Willie,” just before he was shot. Phillips says the detectives didn’t want to hear that detail from him, in an apparent attempt to protect Scarrott and Kop’s version of the story. “It wasn’t a shout, a scream, or nothing,” he said in a later deposition. “But he said it loud.”
Back at headquarters, the killing provoked a few changes. According to former Oakland Police Chief Richard Word, undercover officers now attend special classes that, in part, teach them how to identify themselves in the field. In a 2002 deposition, the chief felt strongly that it was Wilkins’ duty to signal the officers. “The onus has to be on the undercover officer,” he told attorneys.
Lt. Jeffery Loman testified that since the incident, supervising officers sometimes circulate photos of undercover officers during the lineup. But, he added, “I wouldn’t call it a policy.”
Rankling some cops even further has been the resistance of the city’s attorneys to settling with Wilkins’ family. The issue of what the family would be entitled to in damages if liability were to be proven is now tied up in court.
If the case goes to trial, the two rookie officers will certainly be second-guessed for a string of decisions. Why did Scarrott break the perimeter and charge down B Street? Cops are trained to hold their posts until police dogs arrive, and McClure has stated that he didn’t feel the need to leave his corner and approach Wilkins because he felt no threat from the man in the sweatshirt. And why didn’t they read Wilkins’ nonchalance as a sign that he posed no threat to them or Phillips? After all, who executes a person in front of two cops?
Of course, Wilkins’ actions also will come under scrutiny. Why didn’t he radio his position, identify himself, and let everyone know that an undercover officer was tracking the suspect? Why did he hold his gun so close to Phillips’ head — if indeed he was as close as the rookies said? Why didn’t he respond to the presence of Scarrott and Kop beside turning around? Was he presumptuous to assume they knew who he was? Or did he really say, “It’s me, Willie” — and think that was enough?
Based on Wilkins’ behavior, Kop maintained that he had no reason to believe Wilkins was an officer. To Kop, he just looked like a guy kicking the shit out of a defenseless kid.
“We were never trained to kick a suspect who was not threatening,” Kop said. “We were trained that it is unsafe to have an unholstered weapon within reach of a suspect. It did not enter my mind that the man who pulled the weapon was a police officer until I saw his badge after the shooting.”
Kop returned to headquarters ten months after the shooting. He took a desk job on the ninth floor in crime analysis, making maps for crime stat sheets. He didn’t come back right away because he knew “a lot of people knew Willie and not many people knew us.” Eventually, though, “I felt at the time I was ready to go back. And I also felt that the department was healed enough that I could go back.”
Scarrott also is still employed by the OPD. After the shooting, he joined the Army National Guard, and has since been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. According to his résumé, he serves as a machine gunner and received a certificate of achievement as a marksman.
Before he left last summer, he was deposed once more, and asked once again how he felt about the shooting. “I don’t understand why the incident happened,” he said. “I am very sad. I think about it every day, when I wake up and when I go to sleep, I think about it. When I go to work, when I see Officer Wilkins’ name on the wall at the police department. It affects me very deeply. Every time an officer is killed in the line of duty, I think about Willie Wilkins. I think about the sacrifice that he and his family made for the community of Oakland. … I can’t think of how I could have done anything different.”