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The family of a woman and toddler who died before a baseball game at San Diego’s Petco Park last fall have accused police of trying to shield the city from any responsibility by suggesting that the pair died by suicide.
On Sept. 25, 2021, as fans packed the stands for a Padres game, Raquel Wilkins, 40, and her 2-year-old son, Denzel Browning Wilkins, plummeted to their deaths from the third level of the ballpark, the San Diego Police Department said at the time.
In the aftermath, police launched a homicide investigation, calling the deaths “suspicious,” but declined to say whether the fall was accidental.
Then last week, police said they’d concluded the pair died after Wilkins intentionally plunged the equivalent of six stories. Denzel’s death was classified as a homicide.
The agency said it had conducted “dozens of interviews, reviewing of available video footage, and collecting background information,” and worked in consultation with the San Diego County medical examiner to identify what led to the deaths.
But Dan Gilleon, an attorney for Wilkins’ family, insisted that the deaths were an accident.
He told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that the police statement was “misleading” because it implies the department obtained video evidence that depicts the moments before the pair’s fall. He said a variety of sources have told him, however, that the video footage police examined only shows what happened after the pair went over the railing as Wilkins was “gripping the baby” until the end as she fell.
“But they don’t have video from up top to show why she was falling,” he said.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Gilleon noted that the city owns Petco Park. He blasted the police department for “blaming Raquel” and raised concerns about a lack of transparency around the investigation.
“Four months after Raquel Wilkins and her baby fell to their deaths from Petco Park, the City of San Diego—which owns Petco Park—will have its police department issue a press release blaming Raquel. But they won’t release any details, even to the family,” Gilleon wrote.
Gilleon also slammed San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, who he said “went to the press to blame Raquel Wilkins” just days after the incident. The mayor later apologized.
Gloria had suggested to KSWB-TV that the deaths stemmed from a “mental health crisis.”
“Many people are suffering with depression, anxiety—either because that was the way that they’ve been for a while or because the pandemic has exacerbated it,” Gloria said at the time. “Whatever it is, seek out help. There is no need to harm a child, to traumatize others in our community. There’s help that’s out there if you need it.”
Gilleon said Wednesday that the mayor’s “idiotic” comments had handed detectives a “hot mess” that ultimately caused them to look for evidence to corroborate a homicide-suicide narrative, without actually asking him for information about medication she was taking, if any, and whether she was under the care of a psychologist.
“If the mayor had not said what he said, and directed this thing in the way he directed it, and the police hadn’t gone down this rabbit hole to try to find evidence to prove him right, then it probably would’ve been classified as an accident,” Gilleon said. “They just went out looking for evidence that she committed suicide.”
According to a witness statement obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune, a woman told police she saw Wilkins laughing and looking happy with her son at a dining area in the concourse before losing her balance and falling off of a bench near a railing. The witness said that, about a minute later, Wilkins jumped back up onto the bench of the picnic table while holding the toddler.
“She again lost her balance and this time, fell over the edge,” the witness said. “From my vantage point, looking at her back, it was almost like she rolled over the railing.”
Gilleon, who plans to file a wrongful-death lawsuit, said photos taken by a former game day employee showed picnic tables pushed dangerously close to the railing the morning after the pair’s death.
He also argued that the police findings are “convenient” in serving to protect the city and defend the Padres.
“It just so happens that a suicide is probably the only way they’re going to get out of liability,” he said. “I find that interesting because even if the mayor wasn’t thinking that specifically—and I have no reason to think that he was—people tend to take positions that are consistent with their role.”
The city has a 70 percent ownership stake in Petco Park, the Union-Tribune reported.
San Diego Police declined to comment to The Daily Beast about the investigation on Wednesday but said in its statement last week that it “will not be making any further comment on the case.”
“SDPD understands the public’s concern and interest in this tragedy that happened publicly in a venue where the community gathers,” the statement reads. “We would like to thank all those who came forward with information.”
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741