The BART Police video raises new questions

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BART, under public pressure, has finally released a video that shows part of the shooting of Charles Hill. Zusha Elinson of the Bay Citizen continues to do great work on this story (which the Chron didn't even put on the front page). He's got a good analysis, but after watching the video about 20 times, with as much stop action as my computer could give me, it seems pretty clear that:

1. The officers made no credible attempt to calm Hill down or de-escalate the situation. The shooting happens only 25 seconds after the cops arrived on the scene.

2. There's no evidence on the video that Hill threw a bottle at the officers. It does appear that he threw what BART identifies as a four-inch knife, but it didn't come anywhere close to the cop you can see in the video. And it appears, from my viewing (and Elinson's) that the knife was thrown AFTER the shot was fired. Which could mean the guy was holding the knife and it flew out of his hands as he got hit -- or it could mean that once he realized he was shot, he heaved it toward the officer.

3. Hill was not anywhere near close to the officer (and thus couldn't have been credibly threatening to stab him) when the shot was fired.

As an aside: It's clear that a knife can be a deadly weapon. A cop being attacked by a knife has the right to defend himself with lethal force. And a knife that it thrown with the right degree of skill and accuracy can be every bit as lethal as a bullet. But in this case, Hill was visibly intoxicated (which was why the cops were called in the first place). He may have been an expert knife-thrower (although it appears he wasn't -- the knife clattered away several feet from the officer). But I can tell you, because I'm into this sort of thing, that's it's very difficult to throw a knife well from even a few feet away. It takes years of practice to get good with a perfectly balanced knife, one that's designed to be thrown. If the "four inch knife" Hall threw was a pocket knife or any kind of knife with a heavy handle, the difficulty would increase dramatically; those knives tend to travel in an unbalanced spin and wind up hitting the target handle-first (and thus fairly harmlessly). And I don't know very many people who can throw any sort of knife with any degree of accuracy when they're drunk.

Again: The cops had no way of knowning what this guy's skill level was. He could have been a ninja assasin able to stick a dull pocket knife in someone's heart from 50 feet away blind and dead drunk. I'm just saying: The level of threat here was a lot lower than, say, a man holding a guy, or a man holding a knife a foot away.

San Francisco cops are required to undergo training to deal with people who are mentally ill, unstable, drunk or on drugs. Part of that training involves trying to talk the person down, trying to avoid a situation where any sort of force is necessary. That clearly didn't happen here.

One more note: When I was working on another BART shooting story years ago, I read a book on police use of force and it had an interesting comment. I quote from my prior story:

In Modern Police Firearms, a textbook on law-enforcement procedures, Professor Allen P. Bristow of California State University, Los Angeles, writes that deadly force should be used to stop a fleeing felon only when "he cannot be contained or captured" through other means. Further, Bristow notes, an officer considering deadly force should ask the following question:

"Is the crime this suspect is committing, or are the consequences of his possible escape, serious enough to justify my taking his life or endangering the lives of bystanders?"

 In this case, the guy wasn't fleeing, but the question remains: Was his alleged crime serious enough to justify taking his life?

 

 

 

Comments

direct threat in order to justify deadly force. So even if it turns out that the guy only looked like he was about to throw a knife at the cops, that would be enough (given all the other problems he'd already caused) to justfiy the action.

If someone points a gun at you, or goes for a knife, or brandishes a broken bottle at you, then that's sufficient. You don't wait for the guy to shoot, stab or slash you before you take pre-emptive action.

In any event, in this case it was reported that the cop was treated for a stab wound, so I'm not sure how else you want to try and explain that away in your anti-police zeal.

Posted by Walter on Jul. 22, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

Response to "Walter": "The cops only had to believe that they were under
direct threat..."
------------------------------------------
The legal standard for the police is the same as for anybody else: Would a reasonable person in the same situation feared for his or her life. The fact that the police person later mouthed the words that he "feared for his life" does not make the shooting justified. The facts of the situation have to be such that a reasonable person in the same situation as the police person would have had such a fear.

Your hypotheticals: "if someone points a gun at you, or goes for a knife, or brandishes a broken bottle at you" aren't relevant in the shooting of Charles Hill by BART police person James Crowell on July 3, 2011.

No one alleges that Hill had a gun, let alone pointed it at Crowell. He may or may not have had a knife in his hand but he was far enough away that couldn't reasonably have been considered a threat so immediate as to require the use of deadly force. He likely did throw a partially full bottle of liquor at or towards the police person, since reportedly the senior BART police person at the scene, , slipped on the spilled liquid. That no doubt was an affront to his dignity but not a legitimate basis for his junior partner, Crowell, to use to justify what clearly seems to be a "summary execution" for the "crime" of "contempt of cop".

Posted by JHM on Jul. 28, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

"The facts of the situation have to be such that a reasonable person in the same situation as the police person would have had such a fear."

I understand how you want to view the situation, but frankly, the released video is not enough evidence to tell either way. You see nothing of what is happening to the other officer. You see nothing of what happens to the man who was shot. For all we can tell from the video, the guy could have knocked down the other officer kicked him in the head multiple times and be preparing to jump on the prone buddy knife first before he was shot. Or he could have hucked something (can't really tell what it is on the video), passed out, and be lying unconscious while the police shot him. You can't tell from the video.

I've heard multiple claims that are unsubstantiated:
- The other officer was admitted to the hospital with stab wounds. If true, they could pretty convincingly be in danger for their lives (i.e. the guy was able to cut them, sorry, but pretty much a done deal). I think I'm reasonable and if I guy is able to cut me, my life is in danger.
- He threw a bottle and a knife at the police. If true, the guy has shown that he's armed and is more than willing to hurt people (does he have more weapons?). Again, I think I'm reasonable, and if a guy is throwing sharp objects at me (repeatedly no less!), my life is in danger.
- There was a second knife. If true, he definitely had more weapons (not that you could tell whether or not he did anyway). Again, he just tried to hit me with two sharp objects, and he has a third one in his hand, my life is in danger.
- Bart police are poorly trained. If true (and after the Oakland shooting, there is pretty good evidence that it is), that could have affected how the incident was handled.

Of course, in my case, if any of the above happened, I think the reasonable option would be to run, run away (if I'm by myself anyway). But that's not really an option for the officers.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2011 @ 9:56 am

Sorry, meant to add,

So it really depends on what happened. The video is not very helpful. It does seem to show something be thrown and it shows the officer shooting. That leaves eyewitnesses. Which is a major problem because eyewitness tend to be bad (I love the women walking away without even looking back to see what is going on). And the eyewitness accounts of the police are going to be biased as well. Trying to find an objective reality from the available information is going to be extremely difficult.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2011 @ 10:04 am

BART never reported that an officer was stabbed. BART did however play up a mysterious "injury" that was supposedly received from an "attack" by Charles Hill.

Do you want to know how that minor cut really happened?

The officer not seen in this video slipped on the liquid from Hill's broken bottle and received a minor cut from the broken glass on the platform. http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/07/21/18685614.php

Also, you're wrong about the deciding factors as per use of deadly force -- BART police chief Rainey said at a press conference that BART officers are also supposed to take into account surrounding bystanders before they shoot. But, BART has lost all of the other video footage from all of the other cameras at Civic Center that night, so we may never know how many people were on the other side of the platform at the time the BART cop shot Charles Hill three times.

Lastly, Tim is bending over backwards here to give the cops the benefit of the doubt on the drunken ninja theory. These cops were in no imminent danger and the one who killed Charles Hill acted like a coward, indifferent to the lives and safety of BART passengers.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 22, 2011 @ 11:06 pm

BART never reported that an officer was stabbed. BART did however play up a mysterious "injury" that was supposedly received from an "attack" by Charles Hill.

Do you want to know how that minor cut really happened?

The officer not seen in this video slipped on the liquid from Hill's broken bottle and received a minor cut from the broken glass on the platform. http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/07/21/18685614.php

Also, you're wrong about the deciding factors as per use of deadly force -- BART police chief Rainey said at a press conference that BART officers are also supposed to take into account surrounding bystanders before they shoot. But, BART has lost all of the other video footage from all of the other cameras at Civic Center that night, so we may never know how many people were on the other side of the platform at the time the BART cop shot Charles Hill three times.

Lastly, Tim is bending over backwards here to give the cops the benefit of the doubt on the drunken ninja theory. These cops were in no imminent danger and the one who killed Charles Hill acted like a coward, indifferent to the lives and safety of BART passengers.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 22, 2011 @ 11:08 pm

Really.

Posted by Lucretia "Secretia" Snapples on Jul. 22, 2011 @ 11:50 pm

"Who cares?" = Lucretia one word scoff, not a post. TROLL ALERT

Posted by vigilante on Jul. 23, 2011 @ 4:34 am

"TROLL ALERT"

- Vigilante

Vigilantism has no role in intelligent public dialogue.

Let's be reasonable.

Posted by Arthur Evans on Jul. 23, 2011 @ 7:11 am

I imagine you standing in the middle of the street, clutching a glistening turd above your head and crying out for attention while the traffic calmly parts around you.

And the best part of it is - you prolly actually think you're really DOING something important! LOL.

Posted by Lucretia "Secretia" Snapples on Jul. 23, 2011 @ 10:43 am

I appreciate the great well researched articles the guardian provides
thanks so much for getting the facts out in the open
the question is, will the people ever get justice, or will the cops continue to run roughshod?

Posted by Guest valeri d on Jul. 25, 2011 @ 11:17 am

The trouble with videos is that a slick, shyster lawyer can convince a sympathetic jury to see what he wants them to see...witness 4-5 of LAPD's "finest" kickin the shit out of Rodney King ("he charges the officers") and Johannes Mehserle (he reached for his taser).

Posted by DanC on Jul. 25, 2011 @ 3:18 pm