Grant's uncle voices concerns about BART police

January 14, 2011 1:35:05 PM PST
The uncle of Oscar Grant III, an unarmed passenger who was killed by an officer at a BART station two years ago, told BART directors that he's concerned that citizen oversight of their Police Department has been weakened.

At Thursday's board meeting, Cephus Johnson said he was "appalled" by a change to BART's citizen oversight policy and thinks it is "really disrespect" to Grant's family.

But Director Lynette Sweet, who chairs the transit agency's Police Department Review Committee, told Johnson that BART wants to have as tough a citizen review board as possible and is changing its policy only because it must comply with state law, which is weaker.

Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward man, was shot and killed by former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale station in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009, after Mehserle responded to reports that there was a fight on a train.

Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter last year and is serving a two-year state prison term.

After the shooting, BART formed the Police Department Review Committee and also voted to hire an independent police auditor and an 11-member citizen review board.

The policy, approved by BART on Aug. 13, 2009, gave the auditor and review board the power to investigate complaints and recommend discipline against officers.

BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger was then to make her own recommendation about discipline, but the citizen board could appeal her recommendation to the transit agency's board of directors.

However, state legislation that was approved last year doesn't include the provision that corrective personnel action can be appealed to the board, which means that Dugger will have the final say on recommendations.

Sweet told Johnson that she and other directors want the citizen panel to be able to appeal recommendations to the board of directors but they had to change BART's policy to conform to state law. The change was approved at the meeting on Thursday.

Sweet said BART hopes to convince the Legislature to pass a tougher law in the near future.

After meeting privately with Sweet during a recess in the board meeting, Johnson said, "Thank you for the clarification" and said he had been upset because "this is a very sensitive issue."

Johnson said he's glad that BART directors are in agreement with him and said the current state law "is not the best."

Sweet said BART is currently in the process of recruiting an independent police auditor and is accepting applications through Jan. 21.

BART spokesman Linton Johnson said the transit agency is accepting applications to serve on the citizen review board through the end of the month.

Johnson said BART hopes that the review board begins meeting by this spring.

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