OAKLAND, Calif. – The San Francisco Bay Area transit officer who was accidentally killed by a fellow officer while they searched an apartment was wearing a bulletproof vest when he suffered a single gunshot wound to the chest, an official said.
The bullet struck an area of BART Police Sgt. Tom Smith's body that was not covered by the vest, Alameda County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. J.D. Nelson said Thursday.
"Unfortunately, bulletproof vests do not provide 100 percent support," Nelson said.
Authorities were still trying to determine whether the other officer's weapon discharged accidentally or if the officer mistook Smith for someone else, Nelson said. Either way, it was an accident, he added.
Smith, 42, was shot Tuesday while authorities searched a one-bedroom apartment in Dublin for a smartphone, laptop bag and related items stolen during an armed holdup at an Oakland train station.
He was the first officer killed in the line of duty in the transit agency's 42-year history.
Police haven't officially named the officer who shot Smith, but he has been identified as Michael Maes, 50, a 13-year BART police veteran, according to government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.
Maes' attorney, David Mastagni, declined to talk specifically about the incident because of the investigation.
Mastagni said Thursday his client is cooperating with investigators. Maes is "deeply concerned, and his heart and love goes out to the Smith family," he said.
The Sacramento-based attorney said he has seen similar unfortunate incidents in his 40-year career representing law enforcement officers. It's one of those risks and perils they encounter in protecting society, he said.
"We all should pray for Officer Smith's family and for Officer Maes' family as well," Mastagni said. "It is always heartbreaking when these types of circumstances arise."
It's not uncommon for an officer to be fatally shot while wearing a bulletproof vest, said Daniel Lawson, a retired San Francisco police captain and the current senior director for Public Safety at the University of San Francisco.
Lawson said Thursday that while there are different types of ballistic vests, most officers on a day-to-day basis wear a Kevlar vest that covers an area just below the Adam's apple to just below the stomach in the front and most of the back.
"It protects the vital organs, like your heart and lungs," Lawson said. "But your head and neck are exposed, and the sides are a bit vulnerable as well."
Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said different vests provide officers with different levels of protection. Thinner, lighter vests generally stop fewer bullets or fewer rounds than heavier tactical-entry vests, Smith said, adding that there are spots where bullets can sneak through vests.
About two decades ago, Smith recalled, the Los Angeles Police Department lost an officer when a rifle round got in through the armpit area of her vest.
"There's no perfect solution," he said, "depending on what weapon is being used and where the bullet strikes."
Funeral services for Smith have been scheduled for Jan. 29 at a church in Castro Valley, BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey said. The event will be open to the public.
Smith was shot while searching the apartment of John Henry Lee, 20, a suspect in several robberies on BART property.
BART police said in a statement that the San Leandro Police Department arrested Lee on Jan. 16 after an automobile burglary and subsequent chase that ended when the suspect lost control of his vehicle and hit a tree.
Lee has pleaded not guilty to second-degree robbery with use of a handgun.
Also Thursday, Rainey told the BART board during its regularly scheduled meeting that two BART uniformed officers wore lapel cameras during the search, but he does not know whether the shooting was captured by the cameras.
Associated Press writer Tami Abdollah in Los Angeles contributed to this report.