New BART oversight positions see shaky start

The July 3 fatal shooting of Charles Hill by BART police officers should have been the perfect opportunity to test the oversight and accountability powers of the agency’s new civilian review committee and independent police auditor.

So far, the experiment is off to a rocky start.

The two entities were supposed to work together — independent of BART — to review examples of police misconduct and abuse. But two weeks after Hill’s death, the review committee hasn’t been significantly briefed on the matter, and BART directors are criticizing the auditor for his lack of leadership in the case.

Independent Police Auditor Mark Smith’s first day on the job was June 27 and his two staff positions haven’t been filled yet.

Smith has come under fire from some BART board members for his lack of action in leading the civilian review committee, a body of 11 local residents that met for the first time Tuesday. At its first meeting, the committee mostly focused on announcing officers and its schedule.

“Mark is very professional and very smart,” Director Lynette Sweet said. “But right now he’s got to get that committee the essential information about this case.”

BART President Bob Franklin said the review committee lacks basic information on the shooting. “On Tuesday, a lot of members were asking Mark how to get BART passes,” he said. “That’s not Mark’s job.” Smith plans to meet with Sweet and Franklin on Tuesday. Sweet said she hopes it will be his “Come to Jesus” moment.

“Obviously there is a challenge with the gravity of this officer-involved shooting, but we’re moving forward in the right manner,” Smith said.

The creation of the review committee and auditor are part of BART’s ongoing reform to its police department since the New Year’s Day 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant III by officer Johannes Mehserle. Police Chief Kenton Rainey said that Hill attacked two officers with a pair of knives and a bottle.

However, BART hasn’t released video tape of the event, and it has added few additional details since its first briefing.

“I have absolutely no faith in their new philosophy,” said Anne Weills, an Oakland-based attorney.

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