Family, Protesters Want BART Officer in Fatal Shooting Taken Off Duty and Prosecuted
Family and supporters of a man killed by a BART police officer last month are demanding that the transit agency's board of directors remove Officer Joseph Mateu from duty while the shooting is investigated.
Dozens of people packed a BART board meeting Thursday to protest Mateu's reinstatement two weeks after he fatally wounded 28-year-old Sahleem Tindle, who was fighting with another man he reportedly shot in the leg less than a minute before Mateu ran up to them.
Tindle's mother, Yolanda Banks, said the board has a responsibility to stop a pattern of police violence on BART against young men of color, and it should begin by immediately suspending Mateu.
"How do you put him back up there with families that are still riding -- my children, my grandchildren are still riding BART," Banks said during the public comment portion of the meeting. "That's an insult."
Board president Robert Raburn adjourned the meeting to closed session after the audience erupted in protest. The board could recommend Mateu be fired but doesn't have the power to do it, according to a BART spokeswoman.
BART released body-camera footage of the shooting on Wednesday, and Police Chief Carlos Rojas said that the department has strict protocols for returning officers to duty after a fatal shooting, including psychological and drug testing.
But a contingent of Tindle's supporters say that unless Mateu is fired immediately, Oakland could see destructive protests reminiscent of sustained reaction after the BART police shooting of Oscar Grant in 2009.
Cephus "Bobby" Johnson, Grant's uncle, warned that Tindle's death and Mateu's continued employment are stoking outrage.
"We gotta remember the smell of smoke," Johnson said, invoking repeated protests in Oakland following Grant's death and the eventual conviction of former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle for involuntary manslaughter. "We gotta remember the buildings whose windows were busted and broke, the anger and response from people in this community that may respond in ways that you don't like."
"There's a simple ask here -- that the officer be taken off of post," he said.
Cat Brooks of the Anti Police-Terror Project pledged to fight for Mateu's prosecution.
"The last time that there was this intersection of race, class, ideology, religion and rage, for the first time in California's history, a police officer was tried and convicted for murder," she said, also invoking Grant's death. "I'm here to tell you today, to promise you today, to warn you today he will be charged, he will be convicted and he will be sent to jail."
"Your role is to fire him," she said. "The fact that he is on the streets of this community is shameful and you should be concerned."
Brooks says her group will also make demands of the Oakland Police Department, which is overseeing the investigation and first showed Mateu's body-camera footage to Tindle's family.
BART police and Tindle's family disagree about whether that video shows Tindle was armed at the moment he was shot.
The video indisputably shows Mateu responding to the sound of gunshots near the West Oakland BART station. About 30 seconds later, he can be seen rushing toward two men wrestling on the ground. One of those men is Tindle, who had reportedly shot the other, unidentified man once in the leg.
Though Mateu yelled for the men to show him their hands several times, he never identified himself as a police officer. The video shows him fire three times into Tindle's back. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
Tindle's family says he died defending his family -- including his partner, her sister and his two young children -- from a stranger who began harassing them as they walked to the BART station.
Narcella Banks, grandmother to Tindle's two children, described him as a family man.
"I have a quiet rage," Banks said. "He's walking down the street minding his own damn business, protecting my other daughter who had her hijab on and protecting his wife and his two children while some strange man is doing something to them."
Tindle's mother and two young children have filed a wrongful death claim against BART.