At a news conference Monday, the morning after a BART police officer shot and killed a knife-wielding man at the Civic Center station, BART police Chief Kenton Rainey was asked whether the officer and his partner had followed BART’s new training protocols and acted appropriately.
“From what I know at this point, yes, I’m comfortable with what has occurred,” Rainey said.
Well, from what we know at this point, I’m not comfortable with what has occurred.
What we know is the officers responded to a report that a man who appeared to be drunk was walking around on the station platform with an open bottle of alcohol. What we also know is that a minute after the officers confronted the man, he was shot to death.
What is not clear is what occurred in those 60 seconds that forced the officer to fire three times at the man. Even less clear is whether the shooting was necessary.
Rainey said the man used the bottle as a weapon, was armed with a knife and was aggressive, and the officers feared for their safety. One officer received a minor cut from broken glass when the man threw the bottle at him. Rainey declined to provide any more specifics, and BART is not releasing or describing the footage from a platform video camera that captured some of the confrontation.
Rainey was asked, “Was deadly force the only option for this officer?” He responded, “Without having all the facts, it’s impossible for me to say that as a police officer, again, somebody armed with a knife, deadly force is definitely in the realm of options.” Pressed further, he said, “The guy’s armed with a knife, the guy used a bottle as a weapon, one of our officers is injured, and our officers used the force they felt was necessary in defense of their lives.”
But was shooting the man truly necessary for those officers to defend their lives? They outnumbered him two to one. They were presumably sober while the man was described as drunk and wobbly. One of the officers had a Taser that could have been used. The officers also had the option of backing off and trying to calm the man down while calling for backup with a K-9 dog to subdue him.
Rainey was asked about the use-of-force policy changes BART implemented in the wake of the Oscar Grant III shooting. He said BART officers receive 40 hours of training every year, including crisis intervention training, which shows officers how to defuse a confrontation with someone who is potentially violent and possibly mentally ill.
Yet something broke down. Perhaps the officer panicked, as Johannes Mehserle panicked when he shot Grant instead of using his Taser. That’s possible and understandable. One of the officers, perhaps the shooter, only had 18 months on the job.
But what is less understandable in this very preventable tragedy is why Rainey is comfortable with the situation.
Examiner contributor Dave Roberts is editor of the Antioch Herald.