Lethal force - Page 2

The BART Police Department operates without oversight or accountability - but with plenty of attack dogs and 12-gauge shotguns

In fact, the latest BART Police Operational Directive, dated July 22, 1987, states that guns may be fired only to prevent a suspect from killing or wounding another person, or to stop a suspected felon who is presumed to be armed and dangerous from fleeing and escaping arrest. But BART internal documents and other records obtained by the Bay Guardian provide little evidence to suggest that Hall fit either category.

Nevertheless, on Dec. 4, a BART Firearms Review Board, consisting entirely of BART police officers appointed by the chief, determined that the "use of lethal force in this instance was justified." BART officials refuse to release the report or comment further on the findings.

The fact that Crabtree fired a gun to subdue Hall seems to undermine one of BART's central reasons for the use of trained attack dogs. The dogs, BART officials say, are supposed to support officers in situations just like the one in question - to intimidate, and if necessary, pursue and immobilize a suspect when other backup isn't available, and to attack immediately if an officer is under assault. Some law-enforcement experts, and many civil-rights advocates, question the use of dogs for that purpose - but all those contacted by the Bay Guardian agreed it was rather curious that Crabtree's canine partner sat out this whole bloody incident.

Officer Crabtree is on administrative leave, with pay, pending the final outcome of an internal investigation. Owens is still facing robbery charges, despite the lack of a victim willing to testify against him. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for this week.

But the problems with the BART police go far beyond the arrest of John Owens and the death of Jerrold Hall. In fact, the Bay Guardian has learned:

BART's Internal Affairs Division, which reviews citizen complaints against BART police officers, has investigated 162 cases in the past five years, 39 of them involving excessive use of force - and not a single charge was sustained. Law-enforcement observers say that's an astonishing statistic, one that casts severe doubt on the department's ability to control police abuse.

"I've never heard of any department with a rate of zero sustained complaints," said John Crew, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Police Practices Project. "I can't believe that none of those people had a single valid case."

The BART Police Department has a written procedure for civilians filing complaints. A 1991 directive signed by Chief Harold Taylor states that every department employee should accept complaints by mail, by phone, or in person, and refer them to the watch commander or the Internal Affairs Division. But there's nothing posted in any BART train or station to tell the public about the complaint process, no procedure for appealing a Police Department decision to a civilian review agency, and not much visible effort to inform BART employees about how to handle complaints.

The BART police use dogs for purposes inconsistent with many modern law-enforcement guidelines. Most local police agencies employ canines primarily to sniff out bombs and narcotics, or to search for dangerous suspects hidden in dark, confined areas. Berkeley has banned police dogs altogether. The BART police dogs are not trained to sniff out bombs or drugs, and are rarely involved in searches; the officers use the animals as standard backup, to intimidate and apprehend suspects in even fairly routine arrests.

The elected BART Board of Directors has demonstrated virtually no effective control over the BART police, and most board members don't seem to know or care what their armed employees are doing with those badges, dogs, and guns.

None of the board members contacted by the Bay Guardian could even guess how many citizen complaints had been filed against the BART police since 1988, or what the outcome of the cases had been.

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