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Calls for resignation of BART Police Chief, General Manager grow louder in wake of new video

By California Beat January 27, 2009 No Comments Print Share


By Tim Jue / Beat Staff Writer

There is a growing chorus of frustrated community members, angered by the apparent beating and shooting death of 22 year-old Oscar Grant New Year’s morning by a transit police officer, calling for the immediate resignation of BART Chief of Police Gary Gee and General Manager Dorothy Dugger.

Two BART Board of Directors were among those demanding the two quit after the latest home video clip of the incident at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland was broadcast by KTVU-TV Friday night showing the moments before Grant was shot and killed by former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle, 27.

The new video, an exclusive to KTVU-TV, showed a second transit officer coming up to Grant as he and his friends were lined up against a platform wall, raise his right fist, and deliver a hard punch to Grant’s face. Afterward, Grant sank to the floor after the officer, identified as Tony Pirone, brought out his taser gun to demand his cooperation.

“I am asking for the chief’s resignation,” BART Director Lynette Sweet told KTVU Monday. “I think as it stands right now the BART police force has operated in a way I can’t trust.”

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She told a KTVU reporter that Channel 2 was her primary source of information on the case. Sweet and her colleagues on the board are elected by voters of the Bay Area to oversee the public transit agency.

Gee, the transit agency’s police chief, has vowed that the highly publicized shooting incident of Grant would be thoroughly investigated in an unbiased manner. On Jan. 12, he announced that the investigation had been completed, and that his investigators would be forwarding their conclusions to the District Attorney’s office who is prosecuting the Mehserle, who resigned shortly after the shooting incident, with homicide.

“All of the other officers who responded to the incident at around 2:00 a.m. at the Fruitvale Station followed protocol and they performed their duties in a professional manner,” Gee told assembled members of the news media at BART headquarters in Downtown Oakland that day.

In a statement released Saturday evening, BART said that they would be launching a new investigation into Pirone for the alleged beating incident. The agency said that they were not made aware of the punch because none of the other officers or witnesses reported it to them during internal affairs interviews.

“In all of our interviews of people on the platform or on the train, we received no allegations of unreasonable force by any officer other than now former BART Police officer Johannes Mehserle,” the statement reads.

That revelation is not sitting well with BART Board Director Tom Radulovich,who is calling for Dugger, the General Manager, to step down. He called the beating “a clear case of police misconduct” and questions why the videotaped punch wasn’t brought up during the investigative process.

“You wonder what happens in incidents when there isn’t video,” Radulovich also told KTVU. “Is the internal investigation good enough? I think we need some change at the top.”

John Burris, the attorney retained by the Grant family, told the Oakland Tribune that he has sent a letter to Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff asking that criminal charges be brought against Pirone.

Burris wants the police officer, who is on paid administrative leave, charged with excessive force, assault and battery, and felony murder as an accessory. He said that the officer who threw his fist at Grant ignited a fuse that ultimately heightened tensions and led to an escalation in the use-of-force by Mehserle. Pirone is also believed to be the same officer seen in home videos placing his knee on Grant’s back subduing him as Mehserle abruptly stands up over Grant, unholsters his gun and fires a shot that kills the young father.

Mehserle sits in a jail cell at the Santa Rita Correctional Facility in Dublin, Calif., awaiting a bail hearing that has been postponed to Jan. 30. There was no comment from the District Attorney’s office Monday on whether they would be pursuing any charges against Pirone.

The new revelations are sure to reignite widespread community anger at the transit agency, which for weeks following the killing of Grant, issued a barrage of apologies and reassurances to the public that the matter would be investigated in an unbiased comprehensive manner. Protests and violent rioting followed in the days after the release of the videotapes that have now been seen worldwide.

Linton Johnson, the chief spokesperson for the transit agency told KCBS Radio that some of his officers have been yelled at and spit on by outraged members of the public. That anger appears to have escalated after the release of this new videotape showing Grant being struck in the face moments before he was shot to death by Mehserle in front of a packed trainload of New Year’s Eve revelers.

Some have turned the incident into an opportunity to wear that frustration through T-shirts that are being sold online depicting a pistol incorporated into the BART logo.

Monday’s events capped a dismal day for law enforcement in Oakland.

With calls for Gee’s resignation growing daily, rumors swirled for much of Monday afternoon alleging that Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker would be resigning after reports that four City Councilmembers were planning to put up a vote of no confidence and that the full council would be ready to oust Tucker by next week for his mismanagement of the department.

News organizations reported that the FBI was launching a federal investigation into the department for the actions of its internal affairs head, who allegedly kicked a drug suspect to death during a bust in 2000. Captain Ed Poulson then had other officers cover-up the incident, according to published reports.

The federal investigation comes on the heels of an announcement that eleven Oakland Police officers were being considered for termination after they falsified warrants and illegally seized evidence in searches. The scandal-plagued department responded to the rumors of Tucker’s resignation at the Mayor’s State of the City address Monday evening.

“The mayor has not asked for the chief’s resignation and the chief has not given his resignation,” Oakland Police spokesperson Officer Jeff Thomason told reporters. “And that is it.”

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