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BART Board meeting disrupted Thursday Feb 12th 2009
the disruption of BART has begun. until the rebellion's demands are met, it will continue and escalate
Board meeting challenged by storm of protests
Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, February 13, 2009
Critics of BART's handling of the fatal police shooting on an Oakland train platform New Year's Day all but took control of the meeting of the BART governing board Thursday and renewed their demand that the transit agency's general manager and police chief step down.
The crowd at the Kaiser Center in Oakland at times shouted down directors and forced the nine-member elected board to reshuffle its agenda and drop the regular time limit on public comments. Protesters unfurled a large banner with an image of Oscar Grant, the man who was fatally shot by BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle as he lay face down on the ground. The officer, who resigned from the force, is facing a murder charge.
At one point, a heated exchange between BART Director Joel Keller and Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks led to several members of the audience charging toward Keller. That drew BART police, but Keller told the officers to "back off." The incident was sparked when Keller held up a flyer with photos of Oakland homicide victims and asked the councilwoman what she was doing about those cases. He later apologized.
Oh, and someone turned the lights off. They were quickly turned back on.
Much of what was said - by members of the public, board members and BART staff - was not new, with the criticisms, the demands and the apologies echoing remarks from previous forums and demonstrations. What Thursday's meeting showed, however, was that the fallout from the Jan. 1 shooting death of Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old, is as fresh now as it was six weeks ago when it occurred.
"We will not be going away," Brooks said.
Critics say BART administrators and police mishandled the probe into Grant's slaying and failed to provide the public with timely and accurate information about the shooting.
There was no indication Thursday that General Manager Dorothy Dugger planned to step down, or that the board would try to oust her. In fact, several directors praised her performance and dedication to BART. Police Chief Gary Gee answers to Dugger, not the board. He told reporters after the meeting that he hopes to keep his job.
"I want the opportunity to see this through because it did happen on my watch," Gee said.
Dugger and BART's chief counsel hired the Oakland law firm of Meyers Nave to conduct an independent investigation into the actions of BART police involved in the incident. The hiring of the law firm drew heat from some members of the public and BART Director Lynette Sweet because the decision was made behind closed doors. Dugger said she was following the direction of the board president and other directors who wanted her to move quickly to get the outside investigation started.
Directors asked that representatives of the law firm be made available for a yet-to-be-scheduled public session where the scope of their work for BART can be discussed.
Meanwhile, directors said the public will be given ample opportunity to weigh in on which consultant will be hired to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the BART Police Department - everything from enforcement policies to hiring practices - and to provide information on setting up a system of civilian oversight of the police force.
Protesters disrupt BART meeting
By Denis Cuff
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Posted: 02/12/2009 12:55:53 PM PST
OAKLAND — A large and rowdy audience disrupted a meeting of BART's board Thursday, demanding the firing of the rail agency's general manager and police chief for their handling of the investigation into the Jan. 1 fatal shooting of an unarmed train passenger by a transit police officer.
In a highly charged but nonviolent meeting six weeks after the shooting, audience members chanted, displayed banners, and seized control of the flow of most of the meeting. Many speakers demanded more and speedier action from BART in response to the death of Oscar Grant III of Hayward.
Some speakers grilled BART board members one by one to find out if they would commit to changing the transit systems's top management.
One speaker and a flier distributed at the meeting suggested that protesters, calling themselves No Justice No BART, may attempt to disrupt rush-hour train service sometime next week to protest the shooting.
"(We're) here to put you on notice we're bringing the protests and disruptions to you and your turf," said a man identified as Christopher Cantor. "That means into BART. That means into the station, the trains, and if need be, onto the tracks."
BART officials said later they could not assess the threat of disruption, but added they would do what it takes to keep passengers safe and trains running.
Meanwhile, the BART board said it plans to review BART police training and operations, but most board members indicated they
have no plans to oust General Manager Dorothy Dugger or try to pressure Police Chief Gary Gee to quit.
"I'm tried of the staff being a punching bag," said James Fang, a board member from San Francisco.
A board majority also supported Dugger's decision this week to hire the Meyers Nave law firm of Oakland to take over BART's internal investigation to determine if six police officers should be disciplined for their role in the chain of events that led to the shooting. The officer who shot Grant in the back, Johannes Mehserle, quit BART and has since been charged with Grant's murder.
Some critics suggested the law firm should not have been hired without board approval in a public meeting.
In defense of Dugger's decision, several BART board members said were anxious to get the internal investigation under way, and they were satisfied with the hiring of Meyers Nave.
During one tense part of the meeting, an angry man approached the board podium and walked within a few feet of BART Director Joel Keller, who had displayed a list of Oakland's 127 homicide victims in 2007 to suggest that BART was being blamed for problems that extended beyond BART's jurisdiction.
BART police headed to intercept the man, but backed away after Keller said he was not threatened. The man retreated on his own.
"I know many people are frustrated," Keller said later. "It's important for them to have their say."
Angry Protestors Gather at BART Meeting
OAKLAND, Calif. (KCBS) -- There was a raucous BART Board of Directors meeting Thursday morning in Oakland as public anger continues to build over the New Year's Day fatal shooting of a BART passenger.
The regular order of business was quickly interrupted by dozens of people who allege a cover-up in the investigation into the fatal BART police officer shooting of Oscar Grant III.
”We don’t know if BART is safe to ride, or if we ought to invest another dime in BART,” said Minister Keith Mohhamed.
A banner was unfurled, demanding the firings of BART’s general manager and police chief, along with a second officer who is on paid administrative leave over the Grant shooting.
BART Director Joel Keller’s answer was not well received. “My response is that until a full investigation is completed, and until we know the facts of that investigation, this board doesn’t have the authority to do that,” said Keller.
A former BART officer is facing a murder charge for his role in the New Year’s Day shooting.
Protesters take over BART board meeting
Thursday, February 12, 2009 | 7:05 PM
By Cecilia Vega
OAKLAND, CA (KGO) -- A Bay Area Rapid Transit meeting turned to chaos Thursday, when protesters took over the agency's board of directors meeting.
It has been 43 days since Oscar Grant was killed on a BART platform and the mood at the meet made it clear that the tension in Oakland is running as high as ever.
Story continues below
The crowd was outraged by the way BART has handled its investigation into the New Year's Day shooting of Grant. They unfurled a banner in the middle of the meeting room and presented their list of demands to board members.
Among their demands were the firing of BART police Chief Gary Gee, the firing and prosecution of Officer Tony Pirone, who is seen on cell phone video striking Grant before he was killed, a promise to make BART more transparent and force the agency's general manager, who earns $332,000 a year, to step down.
"Not asking for, at this point demanding, the resignation or termination of Dorothy Dugger," Oakland City Council member Desley Brooks said.
All the board members were on the hot seat. Outraged protesters called on them one by one to publicly say whether they would meet the demands; many would not answer, saying public meeting laws would not allow it.
Board member Joel Keller tried to challenge protesters, and that is when the meeting turned to chaos.
"I'd like to ask Councilwoman Brooks what she's done to ensure the Oakland Police Department has fully investigated," Keller said.
Some on the board tried to defend gee; they too were shot down.
"Until this incident, every single request has been for more BART police, for improved relations," BART board member Bob Franklin said.
Gee says he plans to stay, if he's allowed.
"As long as I'm police chief I will continue to serve with the level of integrity and commitment that I have throughout my career," Gee said.
Several board members have publically said they would like to see Gee leave, but four of the nine board members continue to strongly stand behind Dugger.
Public demands BART officials lose their posts
By Will Reisman
Examiner Staff Writer 2/13/09
Kyrha Dahan speaks about her frustration with BART’s handling of the Jan. 1 fatal shooting during a meeting Thursday in Oakland of the transit agency’s board of directors. Special to The Examiner OAKLAND – A defiant collection of politicians, community organizers and local residents continued to demand that someone lose their job due to BART’s handling of the New Year’s Day shooting of an unarmed passenger.
In a tense board of directors meeting Thursday, an overflow crowd demanded that BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger and police Chief Gary Gee step down because of their response to the shooting death of Oscar Grant III, 22, at the Fruitvale station.
Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks was one of the more vocal speakers. Along with the resignations of Gee and Dugger, she also asked for criminal charges to be pressed against BART police Officer Tony Pirone, who was captured on amateur video punching Grant in the face prior to the shooting. A community group has also submitted a petition with some 20,000 signatures asking the Alameda County district attorney to pursue charges against Pirone.
Despite the heated calls for his dismissal, Gee remained resolute about his position as BART’s police chief.
“I can’t just turn my back on this,” he said. “This tragic event happened on my watch, so I feel a personal, moral and professional responsibility to follow this thing through.”
Former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle has been charged with murder in Grant’s death. Mehserle shot the Hayward father in the back while he was laying face down on the station platform. The shooting, caught on amateur videos, has spurred protests and a riot in downtown Oakland. BART has been under fire since the incident.
In response to criticism, BART has hired an Oakland law firm to conduct an internal-affairs investigation.
Also Thursday, BART directors’ newly-created public safety subcommittee said it will hire a separate firm to review the transit agency’s entire police force.
prior to meeting...
BART brings in law firm for shooting probe
Demian Bulwa, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, February 12, 2009
(02-11) 17:50 PST OAKLAND -- BART officials said Wednesday that they have hired an Oakland law firm to look into the actions of police involved in the New Year's Day incident that culminated with one of the agency's officers shooting and killing an unarmed passenger.
Officials said they had hired the Meyers Nave firm, which primarily represents public agencies and is headed by Jayne Williams. She used to be Oakland's city attorney and now holds that job in San Leandro.
For roughly $150,000, the firm will carry out a personnel investigation that typically would be handled by BART police's internal affairs division.
The firm's recommendations - including whether officers should be disciplined or fired - will be turned over to BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger.
Williams said at a press conference at BART headquarters in Oakland that she hopes to deliver a report - some of which will be made public - in three months. She described it as a broad review of what happened before and after then-Officer Johannes Mehserle shot Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale Station.
Mehserle has since been charged with murder, and Grant's relatives and others have called for charges to be filed against other officers - including Tony Pirone, who struck Grant two minutes before he was shot.
Williams said the investigation will focus not only on Pirone and five other officers who were with Mehserle, but on the response of BART's command staff. Officers' use of force will be examined, she said, as well as their general interaction with riders and their decision to detain five of Grant's friends after a fight aboard a Dublin-Pleasanton train.
Mehserle will not be a subject of the investigation, having resigned from the force last month before being arrested.
Williams said her firm has experience looking into allegations of police misconduct, citing in particular its handling of several sexual harassment cases. One of the firm's principals, David Cunningham, is a past president of Los Angeles' civilian police commission.
Pirone's attorney, Bill Rapoport, said he approved of BART's decision to bring in outside investigators. But he said Meyers Nave did not appear to be qualified to handle a probe into police use of force.
Rapoport said Pirone had struck Grant after Grant tried to knee the officer in the groin.
Pirone and the other officers are on paid administrative leave from BART.
In the separate criminal investigation into the Jan. 1 incident, BART officials said Wednesday that police plan to turn over their findings relating to the six officers within the next two weeks to the Alameda County district attorney. Prosecutors will decide whether to file charges.
Police review plans on BART board's agenda
Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Six weeks after a BART police officer shot dead an unarmed passenger, transit agency officials are still struggling with how to make good on their promise to create a new structure of police accountability.
Today, the BART Board of Directors will hear an update on plans for a police review committee and the hiring of an outside consultant to help in that endeavor.
"I want to move faster than slower," said BART Director Carole Ward Allen, who is leading the effort. "But everything is in the infancy. We want to make sure that what we do set up is done right."
BART is under intense public pressure to restore public confidence and revamp its police oversight system after Officer Johannes Mehserle killed Oscar Grant, 22, on an Oakland station platform after he was pulled from a train before dawn on New Year's Day.
The Alameda County district attorney's office has charged Mehserle, 27, with murder. Mehserle, who resigned from the police force, pleaded not guilty.
The incident, caught on video by other passengers, triggered multiple protests in downtown Oakland and at BART offices. Protesters are expected to show up in force again at today's meeting.
"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," said Dereca Blackmon, one of the protest organizers with the Coalition Against Police Executions.
Selecting a model
Just what that system will look like has not been determined. There are dozens of examples across the country, and several in the Bay Area.
San Jose has the Office of the Independent Police Auditor, which monitors the police department's in-house investigations into civilian complaints of officer misconduct.
The agency audits the investigations to see whether they were thorough and complete and can recommend to the mayor and city council that the cases be reopened. The agency does not conduct its own investigations.
In San Francisco, the Office of Citizen Complaints independently investigates all civilian complaints against police officers and forwards the findings and recommendations to either the police chief or the Police Commission, a civilian panel appointed by the mayor and Board of Supervisors.
Berkeley has a Police Review Commission, the nation's longest-operating civilian review board. The commission, appointed by the mayor and city council, receives complaints of police misconduct, conducts investigations and presents findings to the police chief and city manager.
Inquiries by several police oversight agencies used to take place in the open, but the 2006 Copley decision by the California Supreme Court made disciplinary proceedings against individual officers confidential.
Some police oversight models have more independence than others.
In the end, however, the decision of whether to discipline the officers is left to police administrators, elected officials or their appointees.
Currently, the BART Police Department, with 206 sworn officers, conducts internal investigations into civilian complaints of police misconduct.
An exception was made for the Grant case, in which BART officials are having the law firm of Meyers Nave conduct an independent investigation.
The conduct of all the officers on the platform that night will be reviewed.
Working out the details
As the BART Board proceeds, it will have to decide not only what kind of system to set up, but how to fund it. There's also the question of whether a change in state law would be needed to create an autonomous oversight body.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and state Sen. Leland Yee, both San Francisco Democrats, introduced legislation in support of the idea.
It's something that BART director Tom Radulovich has long advocated but didn't have the support for until the Grant shooting.
"We still need to figure out what the oversight body will do," Radulovich said. "The police officers need to feel that it's going to make policing better, and the public needs to feel that the police are being held accountable."
Jesse Sekhon, president of the BART Police Officers Association, agreed with that framework and wants to make sure that the union is part of the process.
"I don't want this to turn into a kangaroo court for the officers, but to create something that is fair to both sides," Sekhon said.
Samuel Walker, professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and one of the nation's top experts on police accountability, suggested that the process for BART won't be seamless as it opens up a historically closed process.
Given that police officers have the extraordinary power to arrest and kill people, he said, creating a transparent system of accountability is key to gaining or restoring public trust in law enforcement.
"It gets the police agency in the habit of responding to review and monitoring, and knowing that someone is watching," Walker said.