By Henry Lee
San Francisco Chronicle
OAKLAND, — All searches that require BART police officers to enter homes will now require written approval by a deputy chief in the wake of the fatal friendly-fire shooting of a sergeant during an apartment search in Dublin, the transit agency's police chief said Monday.
Chief Kenton Rainey, speaking at a news conference at BART headquarters in Oakland, said he was not necessarily faulting the tactics used in last Tuesday's probation search that ended when Officer Michael Maes, a detective, accidentally shot and killed his supervisor, Sgt. Tom "Tommy" Smith.
But the tragedy has raised questions inside and outside of the BART police force about whether the transit agency's officers have enough training and experience to safely conduct such searches.
The shooting that killed Smith, the 42-year-old head of detectives, happened as officers were trying to recover stolen property at the Dublin apartment, five days after the robbery suspect who lived there was arrested.
Sources familiar with the investigation have told The Chronicle that Maes appears to have fired at Smith after momentarily regarding him as an armed threat. The two men had gone into the 723-square-foot apartment, which had a circular layout, along with another plainclothes detective and two uniformed officers, the sources said.
Rainey said BART Deputy Chief Jeff Jennings had known in advance about the probation search at the Park Sierra complex on Dougherty Road. The new policy, the chief said, requires that such notification be made in writing — and, like the old policy, mandates that a police supervisor be on scene during the search.
"I believe in officer safety, and this is just another layer of supervision by getting the deputy chief's written approval that they're fully aware of what's going on," Rainey said.
Officer's Extra Training
A funeral will be held Wednesday in Castro Valley for Smith, the first BART police officer to be killed in the line of duty. Among those attending will be Maes, who requested that his "role in the tragedy" be made public, the chief said Monday.
BART released more information about Maes, a 14-year department veteran who has served as a field training officer and an acting sergeant, and is certified as a rifle operator. Maes previously worked for the Moraga Police Department as a patrol officer and detective for 12 years.
"Detective Maes has an extensive background in the area of criminal investigations, where he has received extra training and experience in conducting search and arrest warrants," Rainey said.
The chief said BART detectives had conducted 18 probation searches in 2013. He did not specify how many of those involved Maes and Smith.
Rainey also said he had asked the U.S. Department of Justice to help BART make sure it had proper procedures for conducting searches, for using force against suspects and documenting those incidents, and for deploying body cameras.
The Chronicle has reported that Smith's shooting was not captured by cameras issued to all BART officers up to the rank of sergeant. The three detectives who went into the apartment weren't wearing them, sources said, and the two uniformed officers didn't activate their devices.
On Monday, Rainey declined to detail the circumstances leading up to the shooting, citing investigations by BART, the Alameda County district attorney and the county sheriff's office, which has jurisdiction in Dublin.
"Although I do have a better understanding of what occurred on that date, I do not have all the facts," he said.
Rainey said he expects to receive a report from the sheriff's office in three to four weeks. The internal BART police investigation, he said, will take 30 to 45 days to complete.
If deficiencies are uncovered, the department will correct them, the chief said, because on the day Smith was killed, "the outcome that we were trying to achieve did not occur." But he added that the tragedy could have happened despite "all the training and experience in the world."
"I believe in transparency," Rainey said. "As I stated before, we're not going to hide from the truth."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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