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Bob Parker

Bob Parker

Lt. Robert Parker served with the Omaha (Neb.) PD for 30 years and commanded the Emergency Response Unit. He is responsible for training thousands of law enforcement instructors in NTOA's Patrol Response to Active Shooters courses.

Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Jose Medina

Jose Medina

Officer Jose Medina is an active member of the Piscataway (N.J.) Police Department's SWAT team and runs Awareness Protective Consultants (Team APC) tactical training.

Tragedy at Fruitvale Station

In the blink of an eye, the life of a San Francisco area transit officer was changed forever.

January 07, 2009  |  by Robert O'Brien - Also by this author

New Year’s Eve 2008 had already been a busy one for Northern California’s BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Police who had already confiscated two firearms from “revelers” (one of whom broke his leg attempting to escape from police). Then at approximately 2 a.m., the BART Police responded to reports of two groups fighting on a BART train in Oakland.

BART Police intercepted the train at the Fruitvale station in Oakland and that’s when the real trouble started. The incident would end in tragedy caught on a number of cell phone cameras and videos.

Here’s what happened: Several BART officers attempted to detain and/or control several males amid the swirling chaos of an increasingly vocal and hostile crowd. Then while attempting to restrain one of the males, one of the officers stands up, draws his firearm, and a round is discharged. The bullet struck A 22-year-old subject in the lower back, and he was transported by ambulance to a local hospital where he died.

This was all captured on video, including the young officer’s reaction, which was to immediately reholster, place his hands to his head momentarily, then assist in handcuffing the now mortally wounded subject.

Before the day was over, video of the incident was shown repeatedly by every Bay Area news program, and it would be a lead story in the local newspapers. At last count, one TV station, KTVU had more than 450,000 hits on its Website video.

And that was just the beginning. The incident led to protests, the filing of a $25 million lawsuit by the dead man’s family, and demands that a 27-year-old BART officer be charged criminally. Official investigations were also launched by the BART Police and the Alameda County District Attorney’s office.

So what exactly does this have to do with SWAT? Directly? Nothing. This wasn’t an official “SWAT” situation. But indirectly, everything.

Here’s my logic: SWAT officers are street officers, and disturbances are common assignments for all street officers. Simply put, this is something that could happen to any street officer, SWAT officers included. This time it happened to a BART officer.

So let’s talk about what happened and the many questions that local civilians and police are both asking about this incident.

Why did he draw his firearm? Did he mean to draw a TASER? Did he see a threat? Why did he fire? Did he mean to fire? Was it an “execution?” Was it an accidental discharge? Was it unintentional? Did he think he was firing a TASER?

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a number of respected national police experts, including Bruce Siddle and Frank Borelli, have weighed in on the controversial shooting. Not surprisingly, these experts are not in agreement on how and why the shooting happened.

After viewing the videos many times, my conclusion is the shooting was clearly unintentional. However, the only person who can answer the “how and why” questions is the BART officer who pulled the trigger. And so far, he’s yet to be officially interviewed by investigators.

What I would ask of you is to watch the videos for yourself. You can access it here.

It’s rare that we get to witness an event this significant as it happens and then follow it through to its conclusion. As you view the videos, try and put yourselves in the BART officer’s shoes because this type of incident could easily happen to any of us. And for that reason alone, all of us need to follow this case as it progresses.

Stay tuned because this is just the beginning of what promises to be a long ordeal played out under the close scrutiny of the public microscope. A tragic incident has claimed a person’s life and has forever altered the life of a good, young BART police officer. That officer has already received death threats and his wife reportedly gave birth to their first child a few days ago.

Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

profshults @ 1/7/2009 10:04 PM

We can wait for the official report on the shots fired but the earlier parts of those amatuer videos are also chilling for the hate-filled crowd reactions to what was, prior to the gunshot, a routine police encounter. We cannot long continue to police in a nation full of antagonists toward law and order. You can find it in videos all over the internet - crowds taunting, jeering, threatening, and obstructing police officers who are engaged in taming disorder. Are we paying attention or have we simply become numbed to the anti-police sentiment growing in our populace?

planejocke @ 1/8/2009 12:59 PM

26 yrs and 5yrs of carrying and using a Tasor. This was no accident and this officer did not think he was using his Tasor. I'm sorry but you do not simply confuse your sidearm with your tasor unless your a complete idiot. This man needs to be charged. Hope I did not offend but this is so obvious that it cannot be defended even with an irate crowds actions as an excuse. Larry

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