SAN FRANCISCO -- Reports that BART police had shot and killed a man at a San Francisco BART station Sunday immediately brought back memories of the Oscar Grant shooting and ensuing public outrage for many in the East Bay, but the police confrontation that ended with an unidentified man killed at the Civic Center station is proving to have major differences.
Police initially received a call at 9:34 p.m. Sunday reporting that a man in a tie-dye shirt and military fatigue pants was walking around the BART station platform with an open bottle of alcohol, BART police Chief Kenton Rainey said at a news conference Monday. Two officers riding a Millbrae-bound train responded to the call, arriving at 9:45 p.m. after a second call reported that the man was wobbly and drunk.
One minute after they arrived, the officers reported one of them had shot the man in the torso. They said he'd been holding a knife and had used the bottle as a weapon.
One of the two officers sustained a minor cut on his arm. No one else was hurt.
The man, whom officials had not identified as of Monday evening, was taken to San Francisco General Hospital and pronounced dead about an hour later.
He was described only as a white man between the ages of 30 and 50.
The shooting almost immediately sparked comparisons to the BART police killing in 2009 of Oscar Grant III, whose death led to sustained public outrage, a murder trial for the officer who shot Grant, and the formation of a civilian oversight board to investigate all BART police shootings.
However, while there are concerns over the officers' conduct in Sunday's shooting, there are major differences in the two cases.
Grant was a black man shot by a white police officer at Oakland's Fruitvale station, while Rainey said the man killed Sunday was white and shot by one of two officers -- one white, the other Asian.
Grant was unarmed and restrained belly-down on the ground at the moment he was shot, while the officers in the current case say the man they killed was standing, armed and aggressive.
Johannes Mehserle, the former officer convicted of manslaughter for killing Grant, quit his job rather than face questions from BART officials and never gave a statement to his fellow officers, while both officers in Sunday's shooting are cooperating with investigators and were giving statements Monday afternoon, according to BART spokesman Linton Johnson.
Perhaps most significant, the Grant shooting led to BART officials firing multiple police officers they said had violated rules of conduct, while Rainey said Sunday he was satisfied that the two officers in this shooting had followed their training and the current code of conduct, acting "in defense of their lives."
However, BART board member Lynette Sweet said she still has a major concern.
"One thing really troubled me, and that was finding out -- and it's not an indictment of the police officers -- but everything happened in one minute," Sweet said. "I've encountered drunk people before and they can be volatile. But when you say you saw a wobbly drunk guy, did he lunge at you? I need more information because that troubles me. I wasn't there, so I don't know, but for me, it takes time to assess a situation."
Sweet said she hopes and expects more information to come to light quickly that will explain the officers' conduct.
Cephus Johnson, Grant's uncle and a signature figure at most local community rallies over his nephew's death, said he didn't know many details of Sunday's shooting but felt it highlights a continuing failure on BART's part to train its officers in communications skills for calming tense situations.
"If a so-called suspect curses them down, (the police) curse back. If a person uses loud language, they use it back. There's no effort on their part to try to resolve this in an effective dialogue," Johnson said.
"These officers are fearing for their life every time they hit the ground. They know they got a bull's-eye on their back (after the Grant shooting), and that's too bad," Johnson said. "But they need to find another way to handle it, because these officers are abusing their authority."
Video of confrontation
Surveillance cameras at the BART station did capture some of the confrontation, Rainey said, though he declined to describe it and said he won't be releasing it to the public.
"This is still an ongoing investigation, and when witnesses come forward, I want their own recollections, not something they saw on TV or in the news," Rainey said.
Police have spoken with some witnesses, but Rainey asked for others who were there to call investigators at 510-464-7040.
Rainey said he is pushing for the investigation to be completed as soon as possible, in part so the man can be identified and the department can extend its condolences to his family.
San Francisco police are leading the investigation, with parallel work being done by BART police and administrators, and the San Francisco District Attorney's Office.
"We want to make sure the questions are answered so the public knows BART police officers are not overly aggressive," he said.
Oversight in its infancy
The Grant shooting happened in Sweet's district and she chairs the BART Police Department Review Committee, overseeing the civilian review board that still is in training, and now faces a "baptism by fire" when it investigates this case independently of the police, she said.
Unfortunately, police auditor Mike T. Smith -- who did similar work in Chicago before being hired by BART in June -- was out of town at the time of the shooting, Sweet said.
Rainey said he's been in frequent contact with Smith since the shooting, and Sweet said Smith soon would be back in the Bay Area.
As for the civilian oversight board, "This is going to be a real test case for them and for BART," Sweet said. "This is the first test of whether it's going to have teeth."
'Average, ordinary guys'
Rainey said one officer in Sunday's shooting had six years experience while the other had 18 months on the job, though he declined to say which one had been hurt and which one fired the shots. One of them was armed with a Taser stun gun, he added.
Rainey described both men as "just average, ordinary guys."
Both officers are on standard leave and will be seen by a psychologist before returning to work, Rainey said.
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.