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BART cop's use of force in question after arrest

November 23, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Another BART police officer is on YouTube and it has triggered more controversy about the BART police force. Once again, use of force is the issue.

A video of the arrest of a BART passenger over the weekend shows the officer and suspect both crash into a plate glass window at the West Oakland station, shattering it on impact.

BART is once again defending itself.

BART is expected to hold a news conference some time Monday evening. The agency is also trying to track down witnesses so they can be interviewed on what happened at the West Oakland station platform that evening.

The officer involved in this case is very new to the BART police force. He just transferred there six months ago from the Contra Costa Sheriff's Department.

Attorney John Burris is calling the officer's arrest of a mentally-ill man "excessive force." He has already got a $50 million wrongful death suit against BART for the New Year's Day shooting death of an unarmed passenger. Now, he plans to sue again for this case.

"You would have thought that this officer would have learned from the Oscar Grant case that you don't immediately rush in," Burris told ABC7. "You try to calm the situation down."

Passengers called for help when Michael Joseph Gibson began shouting on the train and using racial slurs. A video posted on YouTube shows the chain of events. Gibson's head and hand were injured during the arrest. The officer was badly cut on his face. He required stitches and suffered a concussion.

Gibson's family says he is bipolar and schizophrenic. His aunt, Sylvia Hawkins, was with him shortly before the Saturday arrest and says the man, who attended army boot camp and was discharged, seemed fine.

"He was not irritated. He was not agitated," she said. "He was not depressed. He was not angry."

"Something set him in a different mode and he was very agitated," said Gibson's sister Lisa. "And, he was making outbursts and he has a tendency to do that when he does not take his medication."

BART is asking people not to rush to judgment.

"The protocol is to use the force necessary to affect a safe arrest," said Commander Daniel Hartwig. "We're talking about split-second decisions by officers at the scene."

911 Tapes describe suspect's behavior

At least four people called 911 Saturday night. In all, BART is interviewing 12 witnesses in hopes of determining whether the officer used excessive force.

When YouTube video surfaced of a BART police officer pulling an unruly passenger off the train Saturday night, the president of the officers union, Jesse Sekhon, thought he acted appropriately, despite the fact that the officer shoved the passenger toward a glass window.

"You want to stay away from the edges of the platform. The train can move at any time. If the train moves and you end up in an altercation and you end up on the track way, all bets are off," says Sekhon.

The officer is on medical leave. He suffered a concussion and multiple cuts that required stitches. BART says it is too soon to tell if their officer used excessive force. They are still interviewing witnesses and going over the audio from 911 calls made from other passengers that evening.

One 911 caller said he thought the man had an open container and reported he was harassing passengers on the train. Another 911 caller reported the man was very drunk.

The 911 operator asked what the suspect was yelling about and a caller reported "Just, whenever people would get too close, he would yell at them to get away."

Gibson was arrested earlier that day, for misdemeanor assault on an 82-year-old man on a SamTrans bus in Daly City.

BART's board had a previously-scheduled public safety meeting set for Wednesday and this new incident will undoubtedly come up for discussion. Gibson remains in Santa Rita Jail in Dublin on felony charges of resisting arrest and battery for the injuries the officer sustained. He also faces a misdemeanor charge for being drunk in public.

LINK: BART press conference, release of 911 tapes


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