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?
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