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BART leaders blasted again for videotaped beating of police shooting victim

By California Beat January 29, 2009 No Comments Print Share
Karina Vargas / YouTube.com)

BART Police Officer Tony Pirone is the one that was seen punching Oscar Grant moments before he was fatally wounded by Johannes Mehserle, the officer seen kneeling over Grant in this image. (Courtesy: Karina Vargas / YouTube.com)

By Tim Jue / Beat Staff Writer

1/29/2008 13:50 PM PST UPDATE: The San Francisco Chronicle and KPIX-TV are reporting Thursday afternoon that BART plans to hand off their internal affairs investigation of the Oscar Grant incident to an outside law firm to “ensure its independence, and to ensure the outcome is more credible to the public,” according to BART Board of Director Joel Keller speaking with CBS5-TV. The Chronicle is also reporting that they are asking an outside firm to do a top-down review of the transit agency’s police force.

OAKLAND, CALIF — The newly created Police oversight committee of the BART Board of Directors met for the first time Wednesday morning to discuss the department’s handling of the New Year’s Day shooting death of Oscar Grant by one of their police officers but were once again slammed by infuriated African American business, political and religious leaders after new video released last week shows Grant being punched in the face by a second officer moments before he was shot to death.

The new video clip, broadcast by KTVU-TV, shows BART Police Officer Tony Pirone striking Grant in the face with what appears to be his right fist before he is brought down to the grown and pinned to the station platform when the officer places his knee on Grant’s head and neck area. Another officer, Johannes Mehserle, 27, shoots Grant and kills him.

Mehserle has since resigned from the BART Police force and is being held in county jail on homicide charges. Pirone has not been charged with any crime, but remains on paid administrative leave. Published reports indicate that he has been with BART Police for four years.

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The new beating video has inflamed tensions even further in the community. The BART Board Directors who chair the committee, BART Police Chief Gary Gee and BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger received another stinging tongue-lashing from prominent members of the African American community — most if not all of them berating the BART brass for the handling of the investigation and raised questions about why the second officer’s actions were overlooked.

Many said they had lost all confidence in the transit agency and the police department after the beating video aired on KTVU-TV Friday night.

“Whatever officer punched Oscar Grant in the face should have been disciplined right away,” the Rev. Amos Brown, head of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP, said.

“I came here trying to move forward, but I’m further back than when I started,” another community leader told the Board.

Dugger and Gee are facing growing calls to resign. Two BART Board Directors — Lynette Sweet and Tom Radulovich — have publicly asked the BART officials to resign, and there are loud grumblings from other elected officials in Alameda County about the handling of the investigation and why Mehserle opened fire on Grant for no apparent reason.

“I think a majority of the [Alameda County] Board of Supervisors have already expressed their deep deep concerns . . . and are outraged about the shooting,” Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson told a local blogger during a BART Community meeting discussing the incident in mid-January.

The incident has taken a new twist with the videotaped beating of Grant being shown on KTVU-TV and through YouTube.com. It could potentially compromise the fragile community calm that appeared to set in after Mehserle was charged and arrested for murder.

Mass protests and violent rioting plauged Oakland for weeks following the Jan. 1 shooting despite cries for calm and patience in the highly-publicized killing of Oscar Grant.

Now, there are new calls and new questions over Pirone’s role in the New Year’s morning incident, and the actions of other officers who responded to the Fruitvale Station platform that early morning.

“We’re upset, we feel that instead of looking at an officer, they should be looking at officers,” the Reverend J. Alfred Smith Sr. told KGO-TV.

BART Director Carole Ward Allen, chair of the new police review committee,  said that she would consider asking an outside agency to investigate the beating incident to ensure that there are no confounding elements that may bias the findings.

And for the first time since the new beating videotape aired on KTVU-TV, Gee spoke out about the incident.

“It is a termination offense if you are not truthful or are insubordinate in answering any of the questions,” Gee told Channel 2. “We haven’t started interviewing any of the officers for the internal investigation, because we wanted the criminal investigation to move to where it is.”

He said that no civilian witnesses reported the beating incident to BART Police investigators. He would not comment on whether any of his officers brought the punch up during interviews about the New Year’s morning incident.

Mehserle, the former officer who shot and killed Grant as he laid on his stomach, will appear at a bail hearing Jan. 30 in Alameda County Superior Court.

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