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BART Inches Toward True Civilian Oversight But Don't Hold Your Breath, 6/8/09: pdf & audio

by dave id
At the BART police oversight committee meeting on Monday, June 8th, members took a straw poll and voted for the strongest of three police oversight models, the only one presented that represents true civilian oversight regarding citizen complaints against the BART Police Department (BPD). It was a non-binding 5-4 vote for option number III in the PDF file below. This is a positive sign that BART appears to be moving more toward a civilian police commission model with the power to recommend officer discipline over an auditor model with minimal civilian involvement. It remains to be seen, though, if this bare majority will hold when the subcommittee finally passes its recommendation on to the BPD Review Committee or to the full BART Board of Directors. BART's history of secrecy and non-accountability to the public is not encouraging.

Remember, it is now over five months since the murder of Oscar Grant and BART has still not taken a single related corrective action nor held a single employee accountable in any way. The only concrete change the BPD has made is that this week they updated their police uniform patches to remove the word "BART" (apparently without the BART Board having been informed of the change by BPD Chief Gary Gee). And despite the fact that its officers were recently busy lying on the witness stand in the preliminary hearing in the trial of Johannes Mehserle, the BPD has seen fit to assign two of those officers, Marysol Domenici and Jon Woffinden, to train other officers on how to deal with uncooperative suspects and crowd control. This assignment is highly offensive considering Domenici was caught lying about the threat she and other officers faced on the Fruitvale platform and she testified that she "wanted to shoot someone" the night of Oscar Grant's murder.

Sadly, the BART Board of Directors seem to be in the dark about much of what goes on within BART. Having spoken on a personal level with at least three of them, they still feel like they don't fully know what happened on the Fruitvale BART platform on January 1st, and this is despite a BPD internal affairs investigation, the criminal prosecution of Mesherle by Alameda County, and ongoing investigations by Meyers Nave and NOBLE. Additionally, while BART had a lawyer present at Mehserle's preliminary hearing, the only reports Board members apparently have received on their police officers' disturbing testimony is from corporate news stories, most of which do not cover the many lies that have been exposed. BART Directors were pointed to Indybay's thorough reports from inside the courtroom so that they could be better informed. It is unclear whom the BART lawyer is reporting to if not the Board, but it can be safely assumed to be General Manager Dorothy Dugger, who in turn has not bothered to relay the information to the Board. Why the Board tolerates this and has not held Dugger, or Chief Gee, to account is a mystery.

Given the latitude Dorothy Dugger has to more or less run BART and oversee its police department as she pleases, and that the subcommittee is stacked with Dugger's presence and that of four former and current police officers out of nine members total, it is surprising that the straw poll turned out the way it did. The chosen proposal (number three in PDF below) is built around a civilian board with the power to recommend discipline of BPD officers. It is also the only option that allows appeals of civilian board decisions to rise above the Police Chief and General Manager all the way up to the full Board of Directors, which would represent a new level of Board involvement in their police department. If final decisions are to be left up to Chief Gee and Dugger, as they are now, then nothing would be different from what has happened since the murder of Oscar Grant, and the last word might very well again be excuses and rationalizations for criminal behavior by BART officers.

Not surprisingly, Dorothy Dugger voted for the proposals whereby civilians have no power to recommend discipline as well as her having the final say in all police matters regarding citizen complaints. Dugger threw out rationales for her vote that included the red herring of litigation (which fellow member Reggie Lyles later called out as bullshit) and that it was unfair to involve citizens in officer discipline when other BART employees are not subjected to such (which fellow member Daniel Buford called out as bullshit when police are the only ones that carry weapons and are authorized to use deadly force against BART passengers in certain conditions). Similarly, the BPD union reps on the subcommittee and former police officer Donald Casimere voted for the weaker two models built around an "independent auditor" with a citizen panel that has no role in oversight other than reviewing auditor reports. One BART union rep cited a "politicized discipline process" as his disingenuous reason for not supporting real civilian oversight, while the other police union rep put forward his belief that appeals should stop with the GM, which is not shocking given the way she has covered up for her officers' atrocious behavior thus far.

The majority of straw poll votes came from BART Board Directors Lynnette Sweet and Tom Radulovich, and community representatives Minister Keith Muhammad and Reverend Daniel Buford, with the swing vote coming from Reginald Lyles who took a bold stand against the traditional "blue code of silence" and how he might have been expected to vote as a former police officer. If this voting pattern continues, BART could very well end up with one of the very strongest civilian oversight models in the entire state of California, rivaled only by San Francisco's and Los Angeles'.

The wild card moving forward into next Monday's subcommittee meeting is that Reginald Lyles had proposed updating oversight option number two and he may end up voting for that rather than option three. Option three is the only model acceptable for those who are demanding police accountability from BART, a state-sanctioned public agency after all. Beyond that, other Board members may not be as sympathetic to community concerns when a police oversight option rises to the BPD Review Committee and the full Board for final approval. If BART makes the wrong move and eventually chooses an auditor model over true civilian oversight, as well as refusing to hold any current employees accountable, then community activists may begin protesting against BART yet again and they will definitely press for state intervention via AB312 or other legislative action.

Keep the heat on BART by making your voice heard at the subcommittee meeting on Monday, June 15th, 2009, at 10:00 a.m. in the BART Board Room at 344 20th St., third floor, Oakland, CA.

Full unedited audio of the June 8th meeting is below:
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(audio 2:09:35)

Public comment begins at 54 minutes into the meeting. The first subcommittee vote comes at 1 hour 6 minutes. At 1 hour 9 minutes into the meeting, Quintin Mecke, California Assembleymember Tom Ammiano's communications director, advocates for real civilian oversight, just before the straw poll continues with the rest of the subcommittee members expressing their preferences on the three police oversight models currently under consideration. While non-binding, each subcommittee member is now on record regarding their vote and the reasons for their vote.

The members of the subcommittee are: Reginald Lyles, consultant with the BPD Review Committee, 20-year Berkeley police officer, and Deacon at Allen Temple Baptist; Donald Casimere, Confidential Investigative and Appeals Officer with the Richmond Police Commission and former Richmond police officer; BART Board Director Tom Radulovich, BPD Review Committee member; BART Board Director Lynette Sweet, BPD Review Committee member; Reverend Daniel Buford, Allen Temple Baptist; Jesse Sekhon, President BART Police Officers' Association; Gregg Savage, President BART Police Managers' Association; and Minister Keith Mohammad, Nation of Islam.

Recent Related Coverage:

BART Police Oversight Subcommittee Stacked Against Real Civilian Oversight, 6/1/09: audio

Second (and Last?) Truly Public BART Meeting on Police Oversight, 5/15/09: audio

First Public BART Meeting on Police Oversight, 5/2/09: audio

Contentious and Conversational BART Police Review Committee Public Meeting, 4/20/09: audio

(2-page PDF with all three options currently being considered)
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