When I saw KTVU's excellent report Saturday night about the BART police officer shooting an unarmed man, all I could think was: I've been here before.
In 1992, Officer Fred Carbtree, a 15-year veteran of the BART police force, shot and killed an unarmed kid named Jerrold Hall in the parking lot of the Hayward station. That was way before cell phones and ubiquitous video; there were no pictures of the shooting and few witnesses would come forward. BART made a monumental effort to cover it up; I spent an entire month working seven days a week to break through that brick wall. In the end, I got the story: Crabtree, who was white, had heard a report of an armed robbery on the train, saw Hall, who was black, leaving the station and called him over. Hall, who had no weapon, argued with the cop and told him he'd done nothing, then turned and started to walk away. Crabtree racked his shotgun, fired a warning shot over Hall's head, then fired again, killing him.
There is no police agency in the United States that allows its officers to fire warning shots. There is no police agency that authorizes an officer to shoot an unarmed suspect who is fleeing the scene. I thought Crabtree should be prosecuted for homicide, but at the very least, he violated his own agency's clearly written rules.
Nothing happened. He was not subject to any discipline at all. BART called the shooting justified.
Back then, I raised the question: Who's in charge of the BART police? Where's the civilian oversight?
There wasn't any. And 17 years later, there still isn't.
This latest incident is going to cost BART at least $10 million when the lawsuits are over. That could fund a modest civilian oversight operation for 20 years. And maybe it will save someone's life.