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.

Author

Robert O'Brien
Robert O'Brien

SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)

A member of the TREXPO Advisory Board, Sgt. Robert "Bob" O'Brien Cleveland SWAT Ret. is the founder of the R.J. O'Brien Group Ltd., a law enforcement training and consulting service that advises and trains a number of local, state, and federal SWAT teams.

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A member of the TREXPO Advisory Board, Sgt. Robert "Bob" O'Brien Cleveland SWAT Ret. is the founder of the R.J. O'Brien Group Ltd., a law enforcement training and consulting service that advises and trains a number of local, state, and federal SWAT teams.

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