11/23/2009

Calif. BART officer and suspect's struggle hits YouTube

The Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — A train passenger's video of an arrest shows heavy-duty glass shattering and showering down on a San Francisco area transit police officer and an unruly passenger in an incident that injured both men.

The video, taken Saturday evening and posted on YouTube, shows the Bay Area Rapid Transit officer pushing the passenger toward a glass wall along the West Oakland station platform. It's unclear what caused the glass to break.

BART's police force has faced scrutiny since an officer fatally shot an unarmed passenger on New Year's Day at another Oakland BART station. That officer, Johannes Mehserle, later resigned and has been charged with murder.

The officer in Saturday's incident used excessive force and behaved outrageously, said John Burris, an attorney who is suing BART on behalf of the family of Oscar Grant, the man shot by Mehserle.

"He doesn't have to be that aggressive," Burris told the San Francisco Chronicle. "He didn't even talk to the guy, didn't give him a chance to surrender, didn't give him an opportunity to move or comply."

BART police Cmdr. Daniel Hartwig said Saturday's use-of-force case will be thoroughly investigated.

"We will review all available information and video and are requesting anybody with any other video or information to please come forward," he said.

Portions of the incident were also captured on train and platform video, a BART statement said.

The officer suffered cuts and a concussion, while the passenger, Michael Joseph Gibson of San Leandro, had cuts on his right hand, right forearm, right palm and head - none of which required stitches, a BART statement said.

The officer, who authorities wouldn't name on Sunday, was responding to several passenger complaints of a disturbance on a train headed for communities east of Oakland. He found the 37-year-old Gibson yelling racial slurs and challenging others to fight, BART said.

Off-duty police officers and passengers helped the officer place Gibson under arrest, the BART statement said.

The suspect's father, Joseph Gibson of Hayward, said his son has struggled with mental illness and substance abuse.

BART police officers' union president Jesse Sekhon said the video appears to show Gibson breaking the glass after reaching out with his right arm. The officer used necessary force and kept his composure in a volatile situation, he said.

"You saw the reaction from the patrons," Sekhon said, referring to the video. "They applauded the officer for doing his job."

The officer and Gibson were taken by ambulance to Oakland hospitals. Gibson has been arrested on suspicion of battery on an officer, resisting an officer and other charges, Hartwig said.

The officer is unable to perform his duties because of his injuries and has been placed on industrial leave, according to BART.

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