New controversy ignited in BART shooting

June 9, 2009 5:27:15 PM PDT
The fatal New Year's Day BART shooting is causing an entirely new controversy. Two officers under investigation are getting new assignments, teaching the very tactics for which they are being criticized.

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The two officers were on the scene on New Year's Day when Oscar Grant was shot and killed. Even though they are on paid administrative leave, they have been given a new assignment teaching policing techniques to other BART officers. It is a new assignment that has some people within the transit agency very concerned.

The officers who were on the platform when Oscar Grant was killed remain on leave and under investigation for their roles in the incident. But, sources tell ABC7 that in spite of the ongoing investigation, two of those officers, Marysol Domenici and Jon Woffinden, were recently awarded special assignments.

Their new roles will be defensive tactical instructors for the department. They will be responsible for training officers in apprehending suspects, searching uncooperative suspects for weapons and crowd control, all issues that these very officers have been criticized for.

"Do I have a problem with it? I surely do," said BART board member Lynette Sweet, who thinks the assignments send the wrong message. "What this does is send a message to the public that yeah you guys are coming and showing up at these meeting, but is BART taking a cavalier attitude and almost an uncaring attitude by allowing some of these officers to test up? I have a problem with it personally as a director," she told ABC7.

Chief Gary Gee and BART command staff selected the two officers from a group of 14 who tested for the instructor positions. A lawyer representing Woffinden and Domenici told ABC7 that they are entitled to the presumption that their duties were properly performed. To date, there has been no specific allegation brought by the District Attorney or the BART Police Department, accusing officers Domenici or Woffinden of having used excessive or unreasonable force.

Both officers testified during former BART officer Johannes Mesherle's recent preliminary hearing and came under fire from the prosecution, who accused them of exaggerating the chaos on the platform in order to justify Grant's shooting.

"Based upon what was observed by them on the video tapes and what they testified to, it's quite surprising that BART would take this position," said Grant family attorney John Burris. "It may not be illegal to allow them to do it, but common sense ought to tell a good manager that it's not the right thing to do," said Sweet.

This new teaching assignment is not considered a promotion. It does not come with a pay raise and it does not come with a title change. But, through a spokesman, BART's general manager said the assignments will not take place until after the internal affairs investigation is complete. And, if investigators find these officers at fault for any wrong doing, the assignments may not take place and the appropriate action will be taken.

The investigation is expected to be complete at the end of the month.

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