By Zusha Elinson, Bay City News
BART has exonerated a police officer who shot and killed a knife-wielding homeless man on the Civic Center platform last July, The Bay Citizen has learned.
The results of the BART police department’s yearlong internal investigation came five months after the San Francisco district attorney determined the officer, James Crowell, fired his weapon in self-defense. Crowell, who was responding to a call about a “wobbly drunk,” shot and killed Charles Hill, a 45-year-old transient, on July 3, 2011. BART security camera video showed Crowell opening fire 25 seconds after arriving on the platform.
Shortly after the shooting, Crowell left BART to work for the FBI.
Since the shooting, BART has made strides toward implementing long-delayed reforms. But its Citizen Review Board, which was formed in 2010 for police oversight, and its independent police auditor, have been criticized for inaction – and did not undertake their own investigation of the Hill shooting.
Yesterday morning, during a sparsely attended review board meeting, Mark Smith, the independent police auditor hired shortly before Hill was killed, announced that the agency’s investigation into the “officer-involved shooting” had been closed.
Smith and the board discussed the shooting while referring to a brief write-up of the internal investigation, which concluded that “Police Officer #1” was exonerated after a 353-day probe into use of force. Board member Peter Barnett asked Smith if the exoneration was in reference to the Hill shooting. Smith said it was. A person familiar with the investigation also confirmed to The Bay Citizen that Crowell was cleared.
Following yesterday’s meeting, Smith and BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey declined to comment on the case, saying it was a personnel matter. An attorney representing Crowell, Dale Allen, also declined to comment.
Two years before Hill was killed, a BART police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man, Oscar Grant, on the platform at the Fruitvale station. In the wake of Grant’s death and the protests that followed, BART vowed to take steps to prevent such shootings, agreeing to 127 policy changes recommended by an independent auditor.
The transit agency had completed 27 of those reforms at the time of the Hill shooting. The two officers involved had not had crisis intervention training and only one had a Taser, even though an audit following the Grant shooting recommended Tasers and training for all officers.
In the year since the Hill shooting, the department has made progress toward meeting those reforms, completing 85 of the reforms by the end of June.
BART has introduced zoned policing so that officers can get to know the people on their beats. In June, the department hired a crisis intervention consultant, Armando Sandoval, to train officers and help direct mentally ill people who frequent BART stations to services. By the end of the year, about 100 officers will be trained in crisis intervention techniques.