Monday, November 23, 2009

Clash Between BART Officer and Suspect Caught on Tape

The Bay Area Rapid Transit system, which has been under fire since a transit officer was videotaped killing an unarmed passenger early this year, faces renewed controversy from a video that shows a man crashing into a plate glass window as he was being arrested.

The officer had removed the man from a train because he allegedly was intoxicated and yelling profanities and racial slurs at other passengers, the transit agency said. The video, shot Saturday by a passenger on a BART train in Oakland, shows the officer holding the suspect and pushing him across a platform toward the window. The suspect's upper body strikes the window, shattering the pane and showering both men with shards of glass.

It is unclear from the angle of the video whether the officer shoved the suspect into the window or whether the suspect punched the glass with his right arm, causing it to break.

Embedded video from CNN Video

The video of the incident quickly landed on YouTube, prompting BART officials on Sunday to promise a full investigation to determine whether the officer used excessive force.

"This is a use-of-force case that we will thoroughly investigate," BART Police Patrol Commander Daniel O. Hartwig said in a statement. "We will review all available information and video and are requesting anybody with any other video or information to please come forward."

The unidentified officer was the more seriously injured of the two, sustaining a concussion and facial cuts that required multiple stitches, the transit agency said. The suspect, identified as Michael Joseph Gibson, 37, suffered cuts on his hand, arm and head but did not require stitches.

As part of its investigation, the transit agency said it would review videos from BART cameras on the platform that may have captured the arrest from different viewpoints.

The YouTube video, which had been posted late Saturday under the title, "BART cop breaks window w/drunk guy's face," was no longer available by Sunday evening.

The incident, which occurred just two stations from where passenger Oscar Grant was killed by an officer on New Year's Day, is certain to revive criticism over alleged brutality by BART police.

In that case, Grant, 23, was among several passengers who allegedly were fighting and were removed from a train at the Fruitvale station in Oakland by BART officers in the early morning hours of Jan. 1.

One of the officers who arrived at the scene was Johannes Mehserle. He was helping another officer restrain Grant, who was lying face down on the platform. Abruptly, Mehserle pulled his gun and fired it into Grant's back, killing him.

The station was crowded at the time, and several people captured the shooting on digital and cell phone cameras. Grant's death prompted street protests in Oakland, including several that turned violent.

Mehserle's attorney later said that the officer intended to shoot Grant with his Taser but drew the wrong weapon. Mehserle resigned from the BART police force soon after the shooting. He is charged with murder and has pleaded not guilty.

Last week, a judge moved his trial to Los Angeles on the grounds that he could not receive a fair trial in Oakland because of extensive pretrial publicity.

Saturday's incident at the West Oakland station began around 5:40 p.m., when several people reported to police that Gibson appeared to be drunk and was harassing fellow passengers. He can be seen in the video shouting obscenities and challenging other riders to fight.

The officer, who was already at the station, entered the train, grabbed Gibson and marched him briskly to the platform wall about 30 feet away. The wall has a waist-high cement base and large windows above.

The officer may have been taking Gibson to the wall to handcuff him, but when they reached the window, it immediately shattered. The officer kept his hold on the suspect, wrestled him to the ground and subdued him.

Passengers came to the officer's aid, including two off-duty police officers from the Alameda Police Department and the Oakland Police Department, who helped handcuff the suspect, BART officials said.

"We would like to acknowledge the actions of the two off-duty police officers as well as the BART customers who assisted in the apprehension of this suspect," Hartwig said.

Gibson was charged with battery on a police officer, resisting an officer and disorderly conduct. The officer was placed on leave with pay because of his injuries.

Hartwig said the incident will be investigated under new rules adopted in the aftermath of the Grant killing.

"In all use-of-force investigations," he said, "we determine whether the force required to take a suspect into custody is justified and within our use-of-force policy."

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