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BART Press Conference on Release of Shooting of Charles Hill Video, 7/21/11: video
BART PR spokesman Linton Johnson, interim General Manager Sherwood Wakeman, and Police Chief Kenton Rainey present the closed-circuit video which depicts a BART police officer shooting and killing Charles Hill on the Civic Center station platform on July 3rd. Assembled reporters ask a number of questions and BART's new "independent auditor" Mark Smith speaks towards the end of the press conference.
[A note on this press conference video: the video is a splice of the recording that BART made available to the public via BART TV and one recorded by this reporter, which, due to technical difficulties, was missing the first part of the press conference. The entire press conference is represented here with the two videos spliced together. BART's recording ends and the second video source begins at 13:54, when you will notice that reporters questions can suddenly be heard with more volume. The BART video relies only on BART microphones for audio, so in first minute of reporters' questions, you will hear Chief Rainey answering "yes," "no," and so forth but it is not clearly audible what those first few questions were to which he was responding. In the final thirty minutes of this press conference video, you can hear reporters' questions much more clearly.]
Interim BART General Manager Sherwood Wakeman reiterates that BART intended to release the video once witness interviews were completed by the San Francisco police department, which is the lead agency investigating of the killing. Wakeman says that SFPD have not yet completed their investigation and submitted the case to the SF District Attorney's office, but that the witness interviews are complete and so the video can be released.
BART police chief Kenton Rainey then screens the video for the first time on a monitor BART had brought into the room and explains his account of what happened when Charles Hill was shot to death by BART police on July 3rd. Two as yet unidentified BART police officers arrive at the Civic Center station via a San Francisco/Millbrae train at 9:45pm, responding to reports of a drunken, wobbly man with an open container of alcohol. One officer walks out of view of the camera within about six seconds. Charles Hill is never seen in the video. Less than 25 seconds after having stepped off the train, the BART officer still in view of the camera draws his handgun and begins shooting Charles Hill, killing him with three shots. Both officers were returned to duty after three days of paid leave and a psychological examination. Rainey later says that officers are cleared for return if there are no indication of misconduct by the department.
Rainey explains that the police officers' faces are obscured in the video to protect their identities, but that their names will be released at a later date. The primary officer, the one who killed Charles Hill, is seen casually reaching into his back pocked moments after stepping off of the train for what Rainey says are the gloves officers wear for hygienic purposes when they expect to make contact with members of the public. Commuters visible in the video are seen looking back, presumably in the direction of Charles Hill, but do not seem to reflect any sense of fear or danger at the time. Rainey says that as the primary officer continues to put on his gloves, Charles Hill threw a bottle in the direction of the officers. The bottle is not seen in the video. Within seconds the primary officer draws his service weapon when, Rainey asserts, he feels threatened because Charles Hill is armed with a knife. Rainey says the officer commands Charles Hill to drop the knife. Just after the officer fires what appears to be the second shot, a blue circle appears in BART's "enhanced" version of the video, which Rainey says graphically marks the moving location of a knife that Charles Hill threw in the direction of the primary officer. The knife bounces off of the BART train to the officer's right and ends up behind the officer.
Reporter's begin to ask questions while Rainey screens the video for a second time, pausing to interject his commentary on events as they unfold. Rainey will not answer questions regarding the distance between Charles Hill and the shooting officer. Rainey says that the officer injury reported previously was to the officer not seen in the video from glass from the bottle, but would not answer questions regarding if the injury occurred before or after the shooting, as per instructions he says he received from SFPD not to discuss events that happened off camera. (While the timing remains unclear, it is now known through a trusted source, and only reported on Indybay at this time, that the injury was sustained as a result of the bottle Charles Hill had been holding breaking on the platform -- the injured officer slipped in the spilled liquid on the platform and fell, apparently receiving a minor cut from the broken glass.)
Rainey says that Charles Hill raised the knife above his head and then was shot by the primary officer. He would not comment, as per SFPD's ongoing investigation, as to whether Charles Hill was moving slowly towards the officers as reported by a witness or was lunging toward them. Rainey shows a picture of the knife and says that the the knife with handle is eight inches long and the blade is approximately four inches in length. There was another knife found on the platform that the officers were not aware of at the time Charles Hill was shot. SFPD is doing DNA testing on the second knife to determine if it had been handled by Charles Hill.
Rainey was asked about life-threatening situations that require officers to shoot, whether there are degrees of officer-defined danger or if police simply see a knife then they can start shooting on a crowded platform. Rainey says that officers are trained to take into account bystanders in the background before they fire their weapons, and that he hoped no one was behind his officer's target. As to resolving the issue of whether or not there were BART patrons on the other side of the station, perhaps in or near the line of fire, Rainey is insistent that BART is in possession of no other videos from anywhere else on the platform at the time, even ones that didn't record the incident with BART police or Charles Hill. (The next day, however, BART released an additional video from the platform on the other end of the station, purportedly from 600 feet away.) Rainey says that it cannot be determined from the video the distance between the shooting officer and the mother and child just behind him, but that they were not in danger because they were out of his line of fire. The officer did not take the time to look behind himself after he drew his weapon before he began shooting, though.
Answering questions about the visible calmness of commuters on the platform as the officers come into the scene, Rainey reasserts that "based on the video" the officers felt that their lives were threatened, although he says that BART has no information that any passengers were ever endangered by Charles Hill.
Rainey says that three shell casings were found and that he believes all three bullets hit Charles Hill in the torso, but that a final determination will be made by the SF medical examiner. Rainey will not comment on the distance between Charles Hill and the shooting officer. He says that it is up to the various investigative agencies -- SFPD, the SF District Attorney, BART's internal affairs, and the new police auditor -- to determine if the shooting was justified and if officers acted in accordance with BART procedures.
One officer has been with BART six years and one eighteen months, and Rainey will not say which one was the shooter, but that will be made public when the investigation is over. When asked which officer's life was in danger, Rainey says that it was the primary officer, who also had a taser that he chose not to use. Rainey says he is not aware of any other officer-involved shootings by the primary officer. When asked again about passengers on the other side of the platform who may have been endangered by the firing of a weapon on the platform, Rainey focuses instead on those passengers who can be seen in the video behind the shooting officer.
Rainey says he does not know the number of cameras in the Civic Center station, but can provide that information at a later date, and that there are no known passenger recordings of the killing as in the Oscar Grant case.
While the knife is only seen sliding across the platform in the video, Rainey says that it was thrown through the air. Rainey says that it is possible that the knife was thrown after Charles Hill was shot.
The investigations will come down to determining if the use of deadly force was appropriate.
The new police auditor Mark Smith clarifies that his role is to monitor the BART police department's investigation, to hold the departments feet to the fire, and to assure that the correct outcome is reached regarding determinations of misconduct. He has been reviewing evidence and been involved with interviews. He will review the BART police's final report on the incident to see if they reached the right conclusion, and if they do not, then he will say why not. Mark Smith said it is not his role to determine if it was proper for BART PD to have reinstated the officers involved after three days. He says it is not yet known if there will be one public and one private report released by his office, but that he intends, within legal limits, to release a single report with all findings to the public.
Rainey steps forward to clarify that he did not say, or did not mean to, that the officer fired as a result of Charles Hill throwing a knife. "Our account" is that the officer fired in response to Charles Hill holding a knife above his shoulder and coming forward in an "aggressive action."
Raw BART Closed-Circuit Video of BART Police Killing Charles Hill at Civic Center Station
For more information:
BART police chief Kenton Rainey and knife Charles Hill allegedly threw (apparently after being shot)