Tale of the Eyeball

It’s called the Remington Eyeball and if you saw it in a movie or TV crime drama you’d probably wonder if it’s for real, or just reel.

It’s real, Philadelphia police SWAT team officer Erik Bullock told a Common Pleas Court jury Wednesday, and it came in handy the afternoon of March 18, 2009 as he and other police prepared to enter the basement of a rowhouse in the first block of Salford Street in West Philadelphia.

Bullock and the SWAT team were outside the house for an hour while a police negotiator talked by phone to Edward Wilson, 54, who police believed barricaded himself inside the house after killing ex-girlfriend Antoinette Austin.

Austin, 26, had left Wilson the previous October after eight years living together, apparently unable to deal with the physical and emotional changes in Wilson after he suffered a stroke.

Bullock knew from the negotiator that Wilson was distraught, depressed, wanted to kill himself – and was likely armed.

At about 3:30 p.m., Bullock testified, they heard a gunshot from inside and five minutes later were told to go in. After ramming open the front door, Bullock said they first went upstairs but found no Wilson, although there was an M-16 military rifle and a hand grenade in a bedroom.

Returning to the first floor, Bullock said, they noticed an open door and stairs to the basement – and faint moans coming from below. Was it Wilson? And more important, Bullock said, was he injured or faking, waiting to ambush police as they went down the stairs?

Break out the Remington Eyeball.

As described by Bullock, it’s a softball-size black orb that contains a camera with a 360-degree view range. And like a softball, Bullock said, it’s meant to be thrown or rolled into an area police are not sure is safe to enter. The Eye also has an internal gyroscope that enables it to right itself after it lands and transmit streaming video and audio in dark or lighted areas.

Even Bullock, a veteran of the SWAT team, was impressed.

“It’s pretty neat,” Bullock told the jury.

Bullock said he caromed the Eye off the wall leading to the basement. Moments later, they could see the body of a man, lying on his side – but no gun.

“We told him to crawl to the bottom of the steps,” Bullock said, and the Eye operator watched on the monitor for about 15 minutes as Wilson dragged himself across the floor toward the steps.

When he and the team rushed to the basement, Bullock said, they found that Wilson had shot himself in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun. He was alive, though most of his face below the eyes was gone.

Wilson survived – his face rebuilt by surgeons to give him some semblance of a nose, mouth and lower jaw. The Common Pleas Court jury that Bullock testified before could begin deliberations later today in Wilson’s trial for killing Antoinette Austin.