OAKLAND — Police are asking for help from the public as they investigate a brazen gunbattle that erupted near a busy East Oakland Walgreens store Thursday and ended in a deadly officer-involved shooting several miles away in a sprawling apartment building.
The incident began on 33rd Avenue and ended with the fatal shooting by Oakland police of an armed suspect in an apartment complex in the 2700 block of 64th Avenue between Bancroft Avenue and Foothill Boulevard, police said.
One man is in custody, another is recovering in a hospital, while a fourth is on the run, Oakland police spokesman Jeff Thomason said Friday during a news conference at police headquarters.
Kenneth Ross, 18, of Oakland, was killed and Jarone Castle, 19, of Vallejo, was injured after police confronted the men about 5:30 p.m. in the bottom level of the apartment building.
Investigators said the two men, who have criminal records and possibly belong to a gang called "211," had been involved in a brazen street shooting less than an hour earlier, about 4:50 p.m., near the Walgreens store at 33rd and Fruitvale avenues. The number "211" is police code for robbery.
Ross, Castle and several other men began firing from a maroon-colored van in the direction of the Walgreens and a nearby blue sedan, according to Bureau of Investigations Deputy Chief Jeffrey Israel. The van took off on Fruitvale Avenue toward Interstate 580 with the blue sedan in pursuit. Both
At least three or four of the van's occupants ran, leaving the driver trapped in the vehicle. The occupants of the car that had been chasing the van arrived on the scene and dragged the driver out of the van, pistol whipped him and shot him in the leg, police said.
Those men fled, and the original occupants of the van returned, then drove off to 64th Avenue — all within view of the occupants of the car that had been hit, police said.
It is rare to see such a disregard for safety and witnesses, Israel said Friday during the news conference.
Meanwhile, a passer-by saw the wounded driver and took him to a hospital. Officers arrived at the apartment complex and confronted the armed men who scattered, Israel said.
Three of the men fled to the garage and tried to escape through the 63rd Avenue exit of the building and were just coming up a short flight of stairs when they ran into Oakland police, Israel said. Police ordered the men to drop their weapons. Instead Ross pointed his 45-caliber Glock pistol at an officer, who then fired at the 18-year-old. The three men turned to flee but ran into more police in the garage, where Ross ultimately collapsed and Castle, also armed with a 45-caliber handgun, was wounded by an officer. Police still are searching for the third man who fled.
Police recovered the two guns held by the suspects, as well as a 12-gauge shotgun and an SKS assault rifle.
The department has received 200 calls from the building since January about everything from drug dealing to medical emergencies and shootings, police said. A man was shot and killed in July outside the building, and an 11-year-old girl was killed in a hit-and-run on a nearby corner in November. A private security company guards the building 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. But the building is called "New Jack City" — a reference to the 1991 movie that featured a drug-infested apartment complex — by neighbors, who bitterly complained about the violence there.
The officers, whose names have not been released, are on routine administrative leave pending the investigation by homicide and internal affairs, as well as the Alameda County District Attorney's Office.
This is the department's sixth officer-involved shooting in 2009, all involving armed suspects, according to Thomason. There were 11 in 2008. "It just shows how inherently dangerous police work is," Thomason said.
The department praised the public's help that led to the immediate identification and arrest of the suspects. "The public was incredibly helpful," Israel said. "I can't stress that enough."
Meanwhile, anyone who has information about the metallic blue sedan with 21-inch rims or its occupants, or the other occupants of the maroon van, is asked to call the Oakland Police Department at 510-238-3821.
There have been six officer-involved shootings in Oakland in 2009, four of them fatal. There were 11 officer-involved shootings in Oakland in 2008 and 10 in 2007, police said.