Page One

Swanson Withdraws BART Oversight Bill

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday September 10, 2009 - 12:15:00 PM

Hopes for some form of citizen oversight of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District police department died for the year when Oakland Assemblymember Sandré Swanson abruptly withdrew his proposed state authorization legislation. 

The proposed legislation—AB 1586—will now go through the regular legislative process of committee assignment and possible hearings next year. If passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor, the changes proposed in AB 1586 would now not go into effect until January of 2011. 

A spokesperson for BART said that Swanson withdrew the legislation after legislative leaders “did not agree to provide a waiver” to allow Swanson’s bill to be rushed through at the end of this year’s legislative session. Such waivers of regular legislative rules were needed because the bill was brought to the Legislature after the deadline for the introduction of bills. 

Last month, in response to community outrage over the Jan. 1 shooting death of 21-year-old BART passenger Oscar Grant by then-BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, the BART Board unanimously passed a plan that would provide oversight and disciplinary recommendation to the BART police force by a board-hired police auditor and a citizen police review panel. Legislation is needed for BART to implement its oversight plan, because the BART charter—originally set up by the Legislature—does not currently allow the civilian police oversight sought by the BART Board.  

Meanwhile, BART media representative Linton Johnson confirmed that a controversial amendment made to AB 1586 would eliminate the provision in the BART oversight plan to allow a two-thirds majority of the BART Board to override a police punishment decision by the BART general manager and police chief. That board override ability was struck when a passage (“The board may also recommend the appropriate level of discipline for any district police officer against whom a citizen complaint has been sustained”) was taken out of the proposed BART police oversight bill. 

Deletion of the board override provision caused several key community leaders—including Oakland Nation of Islam head, Minister Keith Muhammad, and representatives of the Oscar Grant family—to withdraw their support for the BART police oversight legislation. 

Linton said by telephone this week that even with the board override passage taken out, AB 1586 represents “two-thirds of a loaf,” and added that, if the Legislature passes the bill next year, the board override provision could be put back in at a later date. 

Whose decision it was to take out the board override passage is still in dispute. 

During an Aug. 27 meeting of the BART Board of Directors, in an audio tape of the meeting posted on the website of the San Francisco Independent Media Center (, BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger and at least one unidentified board member can be heard saying that the provision had been struck by Swanson. 

In a prepared statement, Dugger told board members that BART representatives were told the day before the Aug. 27 meeting “by members of Swanson's staff that he will eliminate one sentence from the amendments given to him by BART in order to quiet some opposition from [the statewide police lobbying group, the Police Officers Research Association of California (PORAC)].” Dugger said that Swanson believed that PORAC “would oppose our bill and successfully kill it this year … unless it is amended to eliminate the authority given to the BART Board for disciplinary action against police officers.” 

During the following discussion, after BART Board Vice President Henry Fang of San Francisco asked who had authorized the deletion of the board override from the bill, BART Department of Government and Community Relations Manager Kerry Hamill is heard on the indybay tape saying that members of the BART Board Police Oversight Committee-Carole Ward Allen, Lynette Sweet, Tom Radulovich, and Joel Keller-"were polled and decided to move forw 

An unidentified board member can be heard on the tape of the meeting saying that AB 1586 was “Swanson’s bill” and “we can’t stop any member of the Legislature from moving forward with any bill they want.” 

However, Swanson chief of staff Larry Broussard has told the Daily Planet that the board override provision was taken out of the bill before Swanson received the proposed legislation from BART. 

It is also known that at least some members of the BART Police Oversight Committee were in negotiations with PORAC about the BART oversight bill even before Swanson agreed to take on the legislation, leading to speculation that it was BART, not Swanson, that made the deal with PORAC. Board member Lynette Sweet, a member of the police oversight committee, told participants about the BART-PORAC negotiations for PORAC support of the bill during an Oakland community meeting five days before the Aug. 27 BART Board meeting. 

And while an e-mail sent out last week by BART consultant Reginald Lyles—the author of the BART police oversight model—said that it was Swanson who proposed the BART board override deletion, it cast doubt on the claim that Swanson would have moved forward with the deletion without board approval. 

In his Aug. 26 e-mail, Lyles said that he had “spoke[n] with Carole Ward Allen, Chair of the BPD Review Committee about the proposed amendment that Assemblyman Swanson wished to make to our draft language. Chair Ward Allen reached out to and received the support from Vice Chair Joel Keller and Board President Tom Blalock to move forward with the amendment striking the last sentence of section (c).” 

Lyles said that “Director Ward Allen had [Swanson chief of staff] Larry Broussard advised that BART will support the bill as amended by Assemblyman Swanson,” adding that after unsuccessful attempts to advise Directors Sweet and Radulovich of the proposed change, the two committee members “did contact BART Staff and stated they are both in support of Assemblyman Swanson moving the bill forward as amended with the [provision for board override] taken out.”  

Lyles said that the board members were being polled because Broussard “needed clarification from BART that it would support the bill as amended by Assemblyman Swanson.”