The BART shooting: Fishier and fishier

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BART's official account of the latest shooting -- and the assertion that the officers acted properly -- is starting to look more and more dubious.

Props to the Bay Citizen's Zusha Elinson for getting the first real break on the case -- an interview with a witness who says the man who got shot wasn't running or lunging toward the cops, that he didn't seem to pose an immediate threat, and that the shooting may not have been justified:

Hollero said that from her view of the incident, police officers should “absolutely not” have shot the man, who she said “just looked like a drunk hippie.”

That's the kind of information that will be key to the investigation -- was this guy just a drunk with a knife who could have been restrained without lethal force? Or was he an immediate threat to the lives of the cops?

One of the nice things about having some journalistic competition in town is that it drives reporters to go beyond the official statements. When I covered the Jerrold Hall shooting in 1992, nobody from the Chronicle or its (then) sister paper, the Examiner, lifted a finger to challenge what BART was saying.

This time around, after all the bad publicity BART has been getting from police shootings -- and with more reporters covering the story -- BART's not going to be able to keep a cover-up going. (In fact, I'm surprised nobody's come forward yet with a cell-phone video of the shooting; if you've got one, call me). At some point all of this will come out -- and the more BART tries to pretend everything is just fine, the worse the agency is going to look.

Obviously, there has to be a full investigation here, by the SFPD,  the BART Police and BART's new civilian review operation. And the officers involved shouldn't be disciplined until all the facts are in and the various agencies come to their various conclusions.

But opening some of this up to the public now won't hinder the inquiry; if anything, more discussion will bring more witnesses forward. That's why BART absolutely needs to release the security video feed from the station, make the initial police reports public and stop stonewalling reporters.

There may be -- may be - a valid legal reason for BART to refuse to release information on the case; the California Public Records Act gives some latitude to police agencies involved in ongoing investigations. But there's nothing in any law that says the material MUST be confidential; BART has full discretion to release that video.

It's going to come out at some point anyway. Why wait? 

Comments

The reason nobody has produced a video yet is that the location and timing of the shooting were likely quite different from what happened with Oscar Grant. With Grant, not only was the incident clearly visible from the train, but there was an ongoing melee that got people taking their phones out. Whereas Sunday's shooting happened with little warning and the location on the platform (close to the south end rather than the middle) gave the fewest people possible a vantage point on what went down:

There were two trains in the station when the shooting occurred. If you were on the platform it's unlikely you were very close to this guy since most passengers gravitate toward the middle of the platform and they may well have tried to keep their distance from him if he was really acting erratically. If you were coming down the south steps your angle may well have been cut off. The northbound train in the station might have been too short to reach the south platform end, so even people in the final car might not have had a good view. Only people in the first car in the southbound train (which I was on, albeit in the third or fourth car) would have had an optimal chance at seeing what happened. As that train had just pulled into the station at the time of the shooting, my guess is that few people in the car were aware that something was amiss until they heard the gunshots.

Posted by Adam Turner on Jul. 06, 2011 @ 8:22 pm

When Meserhle got off for murdering Oscar Grant, it didn't take a genius to see what message the judicial system was sending to would-be murderer cops: shoot away, we've got your back. Well, message received.

Meanwhile, two thousand people are going on hunger strikes throughout the country's atrocious prisons. We imprison people for the smallest things -possession of marijuana, having sex the "wrong" way, shoplifting -and as a result we have the world's highest rate of imprisonment by far. Oh, but the cops get away with whatever they please.

We live in a police state and nobody gives a damn.

Posted by Greg on Jul. 06, 2011 @ 9:26 pm