Lethal force - Page 6

The BART Police Department operates without oversight or accountability - but with plenty of attack dogs and 12-gauge shotguns
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BART spokesperson Michael Healy said the board plays no role in hiring or firing a chief, much less in disciplining police officers.

Former BART Board member Arlo Hale Smith said that in his term of office, the BART police chief rarely showed up for board meetings. "Even when we had something to discuss about the department - usually a labor-contract issue - the assistant general manager would come," Smith explained.

Citizen complaints against the BART police are handled by the Internal Affairs Department, which is not a separate agency, as it is in many police departments, but a branch of the Detective Division, Taylor told the Bay Guardian.

That, some critics say, may explain why BART has the lowest possible rate of sustained complaints against its police officers. "There's a very good reason for civilian agencies to handle complaints against the police," said the ACLU's John Crew. "People who have been abused by the police have a hard time trusting the same police department to do an honest investigation."

Cornelius Hall, who is no stranger to government bureaucracy, said he ran into a stone wall when he tried to get some basic information about his son's death from BART. "They wouldn't even give me the police report," he told the Bay Guardian. "The only way I can find out what happened to my son is to hire a lawyer and have it subpoenaed."

Crew said he finds the situation "chilling." He said he saw a "complete dearth" of civilian oversight in the BART administrative structure. "There's no opportunity for meaningful public input, for hearings, for discussion of issues," he continued.

"It's not an acceptable situation. But under the circumstances, the members of the BART Board have an increased responsibility to ask questions and keep on top of their police department's practices."

In the case of Jerrold Hall, at least, that doesn't seem to be happening. The shooting hasn't been on the agenda for any board meeting since Nov. 15, and board members say they haven't received any information about it from BART management.

And unlike Cornelius Hall, they haven't even bothered to ask.

TO TELL THE TRUTH

The day after a BART police officer shot Jerrold Hall in the back of the head, transit agency spokesperson Mike Healy told reporters that Hall had been shot in the chest.

Not true.

Healy also told reporters that Hall had attacked Officer Fred Crabtree, and continued to attack him after Crabtree fired a warning shot.

Not true.

And Healy said that the warning shot was fired "over Hall's head."

Not true, either.

Healy freely referred to an alleged "armed robbery," but he didn't tell reporters that BART police had searched the entire area and never found a gun. He didn't say that the alleged robbery victim had vanished without a trace, either.

So the public got a one-sided - and, as it turns out, largely inaccurate - picture of the incident. The press, taking Healy's information at face value, portrayed Jerrold Hall as a violent, gun-wielding punk, shot in the act of attacking a cop.

"In some ways," says Hall's father, Cornelius, "that's the saddest part of all."

And while Healy finally put out a statement Dec. 7 acknowledging that some of his previous comments were in error, he did so only after a three-week barrage of questions from the Bay Guardian - and he never issued a word of apology to the Hall family.

It's hard to blame Healy for the initial round of misinformation: In the heat of a bloody battle, the truth is often obscured. But Healy clearly knew, or could have known, within a few days after the incident that his official press statements had been wrong - that, for example, the medical reports showed Hall had been shot from behind.