A BART police officer's use of a Taser on a 35-year-old man who allegedly resisted after being busted for fare evasion last month does not appear to be over-the-line, according to the transit agency’s new police chief.
In a column published on the transit agency’s Web site Wednesday, Chief Kenton Rainey discussed spending the greater part of his first two weeks at his current post addressing two major concerns about transit officers.
The first, of course, is the unrest that followed the verdict of a former transit officer that said he mistook his gun for a Taser when fatally shooting an unarmed passenger on New Year’s Day in 2009.
The second involves a transit officer’s use of a Taser on 35-year-old Jason Johnson, who allegedly did not pay his fare at a downtown Berkeley station and then resisted police. The incident happened two weeks after BART officers regained the right to use the electronic-shock devices. The devices had been taken away from officers for two months after an officer Tased a 13-year-old suspect riding a bike.
During those two months, officers were retrained on Tasers, police said.
Fact is, Johnson was no angel, Rainey said.
“It’s not normal for a 35-year-old man to engage in fare evasion or for him to aggressively and physically resist a uniformed officer,” the chief wrote in the column.
“That’s why it was no surprise to learn that the suspect’s criminal history includes arrests and/or contacts for battery on a police officer, auto theft, domestic violence, reckless driving, giving false identification to an officer, trespassing and fare evasion.”
Still, an investigation into this Taser incident is ongoing, and “we will admit it” if the transit officer was wrong, Rainey said. He also asked people not to criticize elected officials who may oppose the use of Tasers, calling it “unfair and undemocratic.”
There is plenty of opposition to police use of Tasers in San Francisco. In March, Police Chief George Gascón’s fight to bring Tasers to the San Francisco Police Department fizzled after a divided Police Commission rejected the controversial stun guns.