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BART police condemned by slain man's family

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  • 7/18 SF Chronicle
    Published Wednesday, July 18, 2001, in the San Francisco Chronicle Family condemns BART police Mother, brother of mentally ill victim shot at station lash out
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 18, 2001
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      Published Wednesday, July 18, 2001, in the San Francisco Chronicle

      Family condemns BART police
      Mother, brother of mentally ill victim shot at station lash out

      Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer

      San Francisco -- The family of an Oakland resident killed by a BART
      police officer lashed out yesterday at the transit agency, saying the
      officer had needlessly shot a mentally ill man and accusing officials
      of ignoring their pleas for information.

      Bruce Edward Seward, 42, was shot in the early hours of Memorial Day
      by BART Police Officer David Betancourt outside the Hayward BART
      station. According to police, Seward, a car salesman, was naked on a
      bench and had appeared unconscious at first, but he woke up and
      grabbed the officer's nightstick.

      Betancourt, 41, pepper-sprayed Seward twice, but to no effect, said
      BART Police Chief Gary Gee. The officer then shot Seward once in the
      chest when Seward continued to brandish the nightstick, police said.

      At a news conference yesterday at the Powell Street BART station in
      San Francisco, Seward's mother and brother joined members of two
      police watchdog agencies in denouncing the May 28 shooting. They
      questioned why Betancourt opened fire without taking other steps to
      try to subdue Seward.

      "I'll never get over it," said Ora Seward, 67, who came from her home
      in Danville, Ill. She added tearfully, "What they did to him is just
      ridiculous. I hope nobody else goes through this."

      Michael Seward, 45, an Illinois prison guard, said, "A naked man
      sitting like that, anybody would know he needed help."

      Samantha Liapes, director of Bay Area PoliceWatch, said, "We have
      seen no evidence to justify the use of lethal force in this
      situation."

      Van Jones, national executive director of the Ella Baker Center for
      Human Rights, agreed, saying police departments need to have
      alternatives to using their weapons when dealing with the mentally
      ill.

      "They need to be helped down, not shot down," Jones said.

      Liapes and Jones said BART officials have ignored phone calls from
      the Seward family, which wants to meet with police and get a copy of
      the agency's report on the shooting.

      But BART Police Lt. Cynthia Lee said police have contacted members of
      the family through the watchdog agencies and had set a meeting for
      yesterday.

      Once police learned that the family was considering litigation,
      however, BART attorneys recommended that the session not be held, Lee
      said. She said the family had been told Friday.

      Lee said BART intends to send the family a copy of the agency's
      police report. "We were never ignoring them," Lee said.

      Betancourt, an eight-year BART veteran who formerly worked as an
      Alameda County sheriff's deputy and an East Bay Regional Park police
      officer, was cleared of wrongdoing by the department, Gee said. He
      will return to duty pending the end of a separate probe into the
      shooting by the Alameda County district attorney's office.

      Yesterday's press conference was also attended by the father of
      Jerrold Hall, a 19-year-old who was shot to death at the Hayward
      station in 1992 by BART Officer Fred Crabtree. Hall was unarmed and
      shot in the back, but Crabtree was cleared of wrongdoing by BART and
      the district attorney.

      Hall's father, Cornelius Hall of Union City, said Seward's death
      underscores the need for an independent BART police review board.

      "I know the pain," Hall said. "We're talking about a police force
      that is not accountable to anybody."

      E-mail Henry K. Lee at hlee@....
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