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Video shows BART cop shooting unarmed rider in the back

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    Published Monday, January 5, 2009, by the San Francisco Chronicle BART appeals for calm as footage shows shooting By Demian Bulwa Chronicle Staff Writer BART s
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2009
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      Published Monday, January 5, 2009, by the San Francisco Chronicle

      BART appeals for calm as footage shows shooting

      By Demian Bulwa
      Chronicle Staff Writer

      BART's police chief asked for patience from the public on Sunday after
      video footage surfaced showing one of his officers fatally shooting an
      unarmed man who was on the ground on a station platform on New Year's
      Day, and after an attorney for the dead man's family said he planned
      to sue the transit agency for $25 million.

      Chief Gary Gee said he, too, had seen video images of the shooting
      of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old supermarket worker from Hayward. But
      Gee said he found the footage to be inconclusive, and he said his
      investigators still needed to interview a key witness -- the officer

      That officer, a two-year veteran, has not been publicly identified
      and has been placed on routine administrative leave. BART officials
      have said only that his handgun discharged at about 2:15 a.m. Thursday
      at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland and that the bullet struck the
      unarmed Grant, who had been detained with several others.

      Officials have not said whether the officer intended to shoot Grant.
      One source familiar with the investigation said BART is looking into
      a number of issues, including whether the officer had meant to fire
      his Taser stun gun rather than his gun. Alameda County prosecutors
      are conducting their own investigation, as is standard in officer-
      involved shootings.

      "We are taking this investigation very seriously," Gee said during
      a news conference at BART headquarters in Oakland on Sunday. "As
      frustrating as it is, I want to stress that we cannot and will not
      jeopardize this case by discussing details before the investigation
      is complete."

      Gee spoke after attorney John Burris held his own news conference at
      his Oakland office, where he was surrounded by Grant's family members
      and friends and witnesses to the shooting.

      Burris said he plans to file a $25 million claim this week against
      BART -- a legal precursor to a civil lawsuit -- because, he says,
      witness statements and video footage recorded by other passengers
      make clear that the shooting was unjustified.

      "It is, without a doubt, the most unconscionable shooting I have ever
      seen," said Burris, who has won several damage awards against Bay Area
      police departments and worked on Rodney King's civil suit against the
      city of Los Angeles. "A price has to be paid. Accountability has to

      "It's pretty clear from the tape and from witnesses," Burris said,
      "that (Grant) wasn't doing anything of a threatening nature to the

      Burris said he has interviewed several young men who were with
      Grant when he was shot on the platform of the Fruitvale Station and
      has gone to the station with them to walk through a re-enactment.
      Burris said he has also viewed video from three different cameras.

      Burris said he will file suit on behalf of Grant's mother, Wanda
      Johnson, and Grant's 4-year-old daughter, Tatiana.

      David E. Mastagni, an attorney for the officer, declined to comment

      Grant was a butcher at Farmer Joe's Marketplace in Oakland's Dimond
      district, family members said. They said he loved to play basketball
      and video games and hang out with friends. He had been in some
      trouble, they said, but was doing better in recent months in an
      effort to be a good father.

      According to sources, Grant had a prison record. Details were
      unavailable Sunday.

      The officer

      The officer who shot Grant has been with BART for about two years,
      is in his mid-20s, and has not been accused in the past of using
      excessive force, according to a source familiar with the
      investigation. The source described him as physically fit and
      respected by peers within the organization.

      A source also revealed Sunday that BART police had been on edge
      before Grant's shooting because two guns had been recovered in
      separate incidents along the rail line in the hour before the

      In one of the incidents, a teenage boy with a semiautomatic pistol
      had fled from police and jumped off the West Oakland Station platform,
      breaking several bones while landing. In another, the source said,
      a revolver was recovered after a fight at the Embarcadero Station in
      San Francisco.

      Chief Gee said officers were called to the Fruitvale Station at 2 a.m.
      Thursday when police got a report that two groups of riders were
      fighting on a train that had just left the West Oakland Station and
      was headed for Dublin/Pleasanton. The officers then detained several
      people, the chief said.

      Mario Pangelina Jr., a 23-year-old Hayward man whose sister, Sophina
      Mesa, was Grant's girlfriend and the mother of his child, said he saw
      some of what led to the shooting. He said officers had Grant against
      a wall on the platform. One officer briefly choked Grant, and someone
      pointed a Taser at him as well, Pangelina said.

      Pangelina quoted Grant as saying, "Please don't tase me, please don't
      shoot me, I have a daughter."

      Apparent struggle

      Video footage taken by passengers, first shown by KTVU television,
      shows officers forcing Grant to the ground and trying to hold him
      down. The officer who shot Grant appears to try to put cuffs on him
      before drawing his weapon and firing. In the video, Grant appears to
      struggle with the officers, though it is unclear exactly what he was

      Burris said a single bullet went through Grant's lower back, hit the
      ground and ricocheted through his upper body. Grant died at Highland
      Hospital in Oakland several hours later.

      Among other things, BART police are looking into the possibility that
      the officer who shot Grant thought he was pulling the trigger of a
      Taser stun gun, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

      BART officials declined to say whether the officer was carrying a
      Taser -- a device that sends out two electrical probes and can
      incapacitate its target -- when he shot Grant. The agency uses
      Tasers but does not have enough of the expensive devices to give
      one to every officer.

      Normally, officers who finish a shift give their Taser to an officer
      starting a shift. But with so many extra officers working on Wednesday
      and Thursday in expectation of holiday revelry, there were not enough
      Tasers to go around.

      It is unusual for police officers to mistake their handgun for a
      Taser, but not unprecedented. Tasers are similar to many guns, with
      a trigger that must be pulled, a safety device that must be switched
      off, and laser sighting.

      Many Bay Area police departments that use Tasers -- including BART
      -- force officers to take precautions, such as wearing them on the
      opposite side of their strong hand and facing backward. This
      requires officers to reach across their body to retrieve them.

      [BATN: To see videotapes of the shooting obtained by KTVU, go to

      E-mail Demian Bulwa at dbulwa@...
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