OAKLAND -- The family of a homeless man killed by BART police last year sued the transit agency Wednesday, saying officers didn't need to use fatal force in the case, which spurred numerous protests.
Charles Hill, 45, was killed July 3 at the Civic Center station in San Francisco after he threw a knife at two BART officers. Police were called to the station on reports of an intoxicated, bearded man in a tie-dye shirt holding an open container, according to the wrongful death lawsuit.
The knife missed the officers and bounced off a BART train. One officer fatally shot Hill three times.
In the federal lawsuit filed in Oakland, attorney John Burris argued that transit agency officers were not trained to deal with a wobbly man that one BART civilian employee described as a "drunk hippy."
"They shot and killed Mr. Hill at a time when they themselves were not in danger," Burris said.
Officers were not struck by the knife, and they had time to get out of the way, Burris said.
"They did step aside, but then they started shooting," Burris said. "There wasn't an immediate threat to their lives at the time they used deadly force."
A BART spokesman said Wednesday that Officer James Crowell shot Hill because the officer felt threatened by a man approaching him with a raised knife.
"We have said before that the officers were faced with a threat from Mr. Hill and acted within the standard procedures," said spokesman Jim
After the shooting, Crowell left BART to work with the FBI, transit officials said.
Burris filed the suit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, on behalf of Hill's brother, Chris Hill, who lives on the East Coast. Burris also represented the family of Oscar Grant III, an unarmed Hayward man shot to death in 2009 by BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle.
Both shootings sparked protests against BART. To thwart one protest planned around the Hill shooting, BART shut down cellphone service at downtown underground San Francisco stations, igniting a national outcry among critics who denounced the move as trampling free-speech rights. BART later adopted a policy that limited cellphone shutdowns to extraordinary circumstances involving a threat to public safety and BART service.