Gun crazy - Page 2

BART cop shoots naked man - why?

And if so, was the cop making a realistic assessment of the situation? These questions, too, are unresolved by the investigations of BART and the D.A.'s Office.

The subway system has offered Seward's family only fragmentary information about case number 01-22334. "The hardest part is that we're not getting any help from the police department," Michael Seward said. "I have not received an autopsy report on my brother. We're trying to find out what actually happened, and the police have not been forthcoming in terms of giving us an accurate, detailed explanation of what happened." The family is contemputf8g a lawsuit.

Lurking in the police documents leaked to this paper is one fairly startling fact: "Officer Betancourt's duty weapon left the scene with him," one chronology of the incident reads. Two hours after the killing, Betancourt turned the Glock over to investigators. "That's totally against protocol," said former Santa Monica cop Frank Saunders, a consultant on police practices. "In these cases, you're supposed to take the officer's weapon immediately."

"I don't know why there are time gaps in the reports," BART spokesperson Mike Healy admitted.

For Samantha Liapes, director of Bay Area PoliceWatch, Seward's death is symptomatic of a broader problem. "We're very troubled by this: yet another example of unwarranted deadly force being used in a situation where someone was obviously in mental distress," Liapes said. "The fact that the man was naked and clearly not carrying a life-threatening weapon makes the use of deadly force by the officer even more troubling."

Two weeks after Seward was killed, San Francisco cops put 20-some bullets in another mentally ill man, Idriss Stelley, in a movie theater at Sony Metreon. Stelley, according to his mother, was brandishing a less-than-lethal, two-inch-long knife.

Beyond the specifics of the two cases, there's a larger policy issue: are local cops getting the proper training in how to handle mentally ill people?

As required by state law, BART - along with most other Bay Area departments - gives new recruits six hours of schooling on the subject. "We are sensitive to the fact that there may be a need for additional training and are receptive to looking into it," BART chief Gee said. "But I'm not so sure that even if Betancourt had gotten supplemental training on dealing with persons who are mentally ill, that it would have changed the outcome in this case."

The chief could take a cue from San Jose, which has put 130 of its officers through a 40-hour training on mental health crisis calls.

Lt. Brenda Herbert, head of the San Jose Police Department's Crisis Management Unit, runs the training program, which was launched in 1998. "What we're trying to do is teach officers to talk someone down, rather than take them down physically," Herbert says. "It's a matter of teaching these officers what it means to be hearing voices, how to talk to someone who's hearing voices, how to find out what the voices are saying so that you can take the necessary precautions."

Seward is not the first person to bleed to death in the parking lot of the Hayward BART station. It was there, in 1992, that BART cop Fred Crabtree confronted Jerrold Hall, a 19-year-old African American. Hall, who was getting off a train with a pal, fit the description of a robbery suspect. Crabtree - armed with a baton, a can of pepper spray, a handgun, a shotgun, and an attack-<\h>trained German shepherd - told Hall to halt.

After a quick discussion Hall turned and walked off, his hands clearly visible. Crabtree ordered him to stop. When Hall failed to heed the command, the cop loosed the 12-gauge shotgun, blasting the young man in the back of the head.

As it turned out, no evidence was ever found connecting Hall to any robbery - and he was unarmed (see "BART Cops, 41-0," 1/14/98).

BART came under public pressure to fire - or at least discipline - the officer.

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