Lethal force

The BART Police Department operates without oversight or accountability - but with plenty of attack dogs and 12-gauge shotguns
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Editors note: This story ran Dec. 12, 1992

The autumn air was crisp and clear in Hayward on the night the kid called Glasstop took a shotgun blast in the back of the head and died for the theft of a $60 radio.

It was just before 8 p.m., on Sunday, Nov. 15. The lights were on in the parking lot outside the Hayward BART station, where a six-car southbound train had arrived a few minutes earlier. About 50 passengers had gotten off, and some were still straggling into cars or waiting around for the next AC Transit bus.

Glasstop, a 19-year-old warehouse worker from Union City whose legal name was Jerrold Cornelius Hall, had ridden the train from Bayfair, one stop north, along with John Henry Owens, a 20-year-old unemployed custodian who lived in Oakland. The two young African American men were standing at the bus stop, not far from the station entrance, when Officer Fred Crabtree pulled into the parking lot in a BART police cruiser.

Crabtree was a white 16-year veteran of the transit police agency and a member of its elite Canine Corps. His partner was a highly trained German shepherd imported from a special obedience school in Germany. The dog trotted at Crabtree's side as he approached Owens and Hall. The officer carried a loaded 12-gauge pump-action shotgun.

Crabtree was responding to a report of an armed robbery: Halfway between Bayfair and Hayward, a passenger had told the train operator that two black men had taken his Walkman personal stereo. The passenger said one of the robbers had a gun and described what they looked like; the trainman passed on the message, and the BART dispatcher passed it on again. Owens and Hall matched the third-hand description that came over Crabtree's radio.

Within a matter of minutes, Hall was lying in a pool of his own blood, Owens was in handcuffs, and the parking lot was a mass of sirens and flashing red lights. Hall was pronounced dead shortly after midnight at Eden Hospital; Owens is still in the Alameda County jail. The police never turned up a gun.

And the man who reported the robbery disappeared without leaving his name.

That's about all BART officials will say about the incident. They've clamped on a lid of secrecy that defies most normal local police procedures and violates the California Public Records Act. The San Francisco newspapers have almost entirely ignored the shooting, and there's been little reaction from the East Bay community.

But an extensive Bay Guardian investigation has turned up a long list of troubling questions about the death of Jerrold Hall - and a long list of serious problems in an agency that has some of the most sweeping police powers in California, and some of the least civilian oversight.

Our investigation, based on a dozen interviews, a review of public records, and more than 50 pages of unreleased internal documents from the BART police and other local authorities, shows:

Officer Crabtree violated one of the most basic rules of modern law enforcement - and his own department's written policy - when he fired a warning shot toward the suspect, potentially endangering the lives of passersby in the busy urban area. The nine .33-caliber pellets from that shotgun cartridge wound up in the side of a tree, about 4-1/2 feet above the ground.

BART's own internal documents contradict the official claim that Hall was attacking or threatening Crabtree at the time of the shooting. Statements filed by several witnesses, and at least two BART police officers, suggest that Hall was more than 10 feet from the officer when the shots were fired, and was walking away. Medical records obtained by the Bay Guardian show that he was shot in the back of the head.

The shooting appears to violate nearly every modern police standard on the use of deadly force.