Bay Area Rapid Transport (BART) announced last week that it will turn over its internal affairs investigation to an independent third party that will inspect the actions of all the officers involved in the events leading up to the killing of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day at the Fruitvale station in Oakland.
Grant, 22, was shot by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle while he was returning from a party with a group of friends in the early hours of Jan. 1.
The transit agency’s Jan. 29 decision came after weeks of protest by community members, some of them not so peaceful, who say they are frustrated with BART’s failure to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident.
BART Board Member Carole Ward Allen, who chairs the recently formed Board of Directors BART Police Department Review Committee, said in a statement that it was imperative to determine whether the actions of the BART officers on the Fruitvale platform violated the policies and practices of the BART Police Department.
“A lot of people have said they have no faith that the BART Police Department can police itself,” she said. “By authorizing an independent, outside investigation, we hope to reassure the public that we are transparent and accountable.”
Joel Keller, a BART board member and the vice chair of the BART Police Department Review Committee, said, “While we have every confidence in the capabilities of our BART Police Department to investigate its own officers, we believe that handing off this investigation to an independent third party will assure the public that we take this investigation extremely seriously and its outcome will be credible.”
Keller added that the BART Police Department and the agency need to work on rebuilding trust with the public, explaining that “one way to do that is to hand this off to a third party and let the facts take us wherever they go.”
There are two investigations regarding the shooting.
The internal affairs investigation, as outlined in a BART press release, is looking into whether the actions of any officer on the platform violated the policies and procedures of the BART police, and its results could lead to changes in policies and procedures, retraining or disciplining action, up to and including termination.
The second investigation is being headed by Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff with the help of the evidence BART police turned over to him on Jan. 12, which resulted in Mehserle being charged with murder.
The DA is also using evidence from separate independent sources as well as the Oakland Police Department’s investigation to build his case.
According to a press release, BART’s role in the criminal investigation is on-going, and will include examining what physical force was used to restrain the individuals on the platform, the results of which will be turned over to the DA, who will decide whether any of the officers’ actions need to be criminally prosecuted.
BART also promised a “top-to-bottom, independent review of the BART police,” including having the BART Police Department Review Committee ask experts in the field of law enforcement to conduct a complete review of all BART Police policies and procedures and recruitment, hiring and training.
The agency has not yet decided who will conduct the independent internal affairs review or the “independent expert top-to-bottom review of departmental policies and procedures.”
“Whatever consultants we choose, they will include local experts who know and reflect this community and who understand the deep-rooted concerns minorities in my district have about police profiling and brutality,” said Allen. “My committee’s goal is to make sure what happened on New Year's Day never happens again.”