Frequently asked questions about New Year's Day shooting


Frequently asked questions about New Year's Day shooting

 

What is BART doing to prevent something like this from ever happening again?
The BART Board of Directors has formed a Police Review Committee in response to the New Year’s Day shooting. The Board has met with members of the community and has already taken the following actions:

  • BART will turn over its internal affairs investigation to an independent third party. That third party has not yet been selected.
  • In addition, the BART Board’s Police Department Review Committee will engage experts in law enforcement to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all BART Police policies and procedures. These independent experts will examine police recruitment, hiring, training, and identify best practices. The independent experts will also recommend changes where necessary.

 

Now that the former officer has been arrested, what happens next?
Former officer Johannes Mehserle has pleaded not guilty to murder charges. An Alameda County judge has set bail for Mr. Mehserle at $3 million and set a preliminary hearing date of March 23, 2009. During that hearing, the prosecution is expected to present to a judge the evidence it has against Mr. Mehserle in support of the criminal charge. A purpose of that hearing is for a judge to decide if there’s enough evidence for a trial and on the specifics of the level of charge that will go forward. The defense attorneys may or may not reveal what evidence they plan to use to defend Mr. Mehserle during the preliminary hearing.

 

Will the other officers involved in the incident be disciplined?
The independent third party internal investigation into the officers’ conduct during the incident is expected to help determine if the other officers will be disciplined by the District. In a January 14, 2009 news conference, Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff said he was not seeking criminal charges against the other officers at this time. (Watch BARTtv News: http://www.bart.gov/news/barttv/?&cat=48&id=487)

 

Why do BART Police Officers need guns?
BART is a city unto itself. In fact, BART carries about as many passengers each day as the number of residents living in the Bay Area’s third largest city – Oakland. Its police are responsible for the safety and security of all of BART 375,000 daily customers, BART employees and BART facilities. As such, BART Police are fully sworn peace officers and are authorized to carry firearms. Additionally, BART is listed as a top ten terrorist target in the state of California and its police are trained in counterterrorism tactics as well. In addition, other jurisdictions often call upon BART Police to assist them during emergencies. While enforcing the law, BART Police can and do face life-threatening situations in which the use of firearms is justifiable.

 

Are surveillance cameras installed in stations and on station platforms? If not, will they be installed?
BART has camera equipment installed at each of its 43 stations and on many of its rail cars. Not every camera is equipped with a recording device. BART is seeking funding to install new cameras as part of its anti-terrorism efforts. Outfitting a single station can cost as much as $5 million.

 

How are BART police officers trained to handle their firearms?
BART, in accordance with the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) requires officers to complete a minimum of 24 hours of continued professional training every two years, including a minimum of four hours training in Tactical Firearms or Force Options Simulator. The BART Police Department also provides at least one 10-hour firearms training day per year with additional semi-annual qualifications.

You can learn more about BART Police continuing education at http://www.bart.gov/docs/continuingeducation.pdf

 

With daily stress placed on a BART police officer – or any police officer – will BART consider the possibility of rotating officers through "more than one kind of position", i.e., allowing them to deal directly with the public, public relations outreach or other low-stress tasks?

The thorough review of the New Year’s Day shooting and BART Police policies and procedures could lead to changes in the way officers are assigned.

 

Why did you release the BART officer’s name and photograph? Whatever happened to "innocent before proven guilty"?
BART did not officially release former officer Johannes Mehserle’s name and photograph until well after both were being widely reported in the media.

 

Does BART conduct psychological background checks of all members of its police force?
The selection and training of BART police officers are conducted in accordance with the guidelines of the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), by the Police Department with support from the BART Human Resources Department. POST standards require that officers must be:

  • Found to be free from any physical, emotional or mental condition which might adversely affect the exercise the powers of a peace officer.
  • Of good moral character, as determined by a thorough background investigation.

You can read more about the BART Police Selection and Training Process at http://www.bart.gov/docs/OfficerSelection.pdf

 

What about the amateur video of an officer striking Mr. Grant?
In all of BART detectives’ interviews of people on the platform or on the train, detectives received no allegations of unreasonable force by any officer other than now former BART Police officer Johannes Mehserle. Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff has also stated that he is not pursuing charges against any other officers at this time. KTVU-TV has provided the District Attorney with an unedited copy of the recently aired video and BART will use this video in its continuing investigation.

 

Who is the officer on the video?
The District Attorney has requested that we not release the names of any of the officers involved in the incident on January 1. BART is prevented by law from releasing the names of officers who are the subject of internal affairs investigations.

 

What is the status of the officers who were on the platform during the shooting?
All of the officers who were involved in the incident on the Fruitvale Station platform on New Year’s Day are on administrative leave.

 

Why hasn’t BART apologized?
Actually, BART has repeatedly apologized and expressed its condolences to the family of Oscar Grant. The first expression of sympathy came during a New Year’s Day press conference just hours after Mr. Grant died. BART has also personally met with members of Mr. Grant’s family to express condolences.

 

Why wasn’t Mr. Mehserle questioned immediately after the shooting?
BART did ask Mr. Mehserle for a statement at the time of the incident but he invoked his Fifth Amendment Right and was represented, at BART Police headquarters, by legal counsel. Subsequent attempts to compel Mr. Mehserle to provide a statement were thwarted when he failed to show for a scheduled meeting with BART investigators and his attorney submitted the officer’s letter of resignation.

 

Can’t BART force Mr. Mehserle to answer questions?
Like all California police agencies, BART is required to comply with Government Code 3300-3313 (Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights) whenever a peace officer is accused of wrongdoing, whether administrative or criminal. The law outlines the required procedures before a law enforcement agency can interrogate a peace officer accused of misconduct. These requirements often mean that peace officer investigations are delayed longer than investigators would like, but to violate these requirements could jeopardize the process.

While frustrating, law enforcement cannot discuss details of the investigation during this period of fact finding. To do otherwise could undermine the ability to seek criminal prosecution or administrative discipline, if the facts justify these actions.

 

Why hire an independent firm to do an internal affairs investigation?
We are taking this unusual step of handing over our internal affairs investigation to an independent third party to assure ourselves and the public of the absolute objectivity of this investigation.  It is imperative that BART determine whether the actions of the officers on the platform violated any policy or procedures of the BART Police Department or state or federal law. While we have every confidence in the capabilities of our BART Police Department’s Internal Affairs office to investigate its own officers, we believe that handing off this investigation to an independent third party will assure the public that we take this investigation extremely seriously and the findings and recommendations that Meyers Nave presents will be credible. We believe we need to rebuild trust with the public and one way to do that is to ask a third party to have a reputable independent firm conduct the investigation. You can read more about this investigation at http://www.bart.gov/news/articles/2009/news20090211.aspx

 

What should I do if I think I have information in this case?
You can call BART Police Detectives at (877) 679-7000 or call the District Attorney’s office at (510) 272-6222.