Law firm hired to take over BART investigation into New Year’s shooting, Directors to take up police oversight issue
By Tim Jue / Beat Staff Writer
BART officials announced Wednesday that an independent third-party law firm has been hired by the transit agency to conduct an internal investigation into the New Year’s morning events where a BART police officer killed an unarmed passenger on a station platform in front of hundreds of train passengers, some of them videotaping the entire incident.
The law firm, East Bay-based Meyers Nave, will be paid $150,000 to take over the transit agency’s probe of the highly publicized incident as it struggles to earn back public confidence after being slammed by angry community officials, elected officials and law enforcement experts for over a month.
The law firm will closely examine all the events that occurred on the morning of Jan.1 including the actions of other police officers who have been accused and videotaped punching Oscar Grant, 22, moments before he was killed by former officer Johannes Mehserle who faces murder charges but is now out on $3 million bail.
- RELATED STORY: The BART Public Relations Disaster | How Oscar Grant’s killing leaves an agency struggling with its public image
“The results of the criminal investigation will be delivered to a charging attorney in the District Attorney’s office to determine if any of the actions by the six police officers rises to the level of prosecutable conduct,” BART Board Member Joel Keller told KGO-TV.
The firm will look into the actions of BART Police officers on the Fruitvale Station platform that day — including their decision to take Grant and four other friends off of a Dublin-Pleasanton-bound BART train and detain them against a station wall.
The firm will also re-interview witnesses to the incident and produce a report in three months time, BART officials said. Portions of that report will be made public, but critical are recommendations on whether some or all officers on the platform on Jan. 1 should face disciplinary action — including termination.
BART has repeatedly come under fire for the use of excessive force in their response to a reported fight on-board a train that was being held at the East Oakland station. Officers made no arrests that night in relation to the fight they were responding to, but widely broadcast videotapes show individuals being hand-cuffed and threatened with tasers before and after Grant was killed.
Meanwhile, protest groups are expected to crowd a morning BART Board of Directors special meeting Thursday where transit agency officials are expected to take up the issue of the creation of an police oversight board that will look into incidents of police misconduct.
Currently, such allegations are handled by BART Police internal affairs investigators because no such review board exists in the BART organization.
Activists and community members have been vociferously calling on BART to make good on their repeated promises to enact a review board which would allow a non-police panel to look into officer-involved shootings and citizen complaints.
“We are at a critical juncture where we need to have more than just expressions of accountability. We need now to move forward and implement a meaningful structure of accountability,” Dereca Blackmon of the Coalition Against Police Executions told the Chronicle.
E-mail Tim Jue at californiabeat[at]gmail.com. Get the latest developments and complete BART Shooting coverage from the California Beat on our special page. Follow the California Beat on Twitter for the latest breaking news and updates on this story and many others.