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Monday, November 23, 2009

Cops: S.F. Policies Would Likely Have Prevented BART's Glass-Shattering Incident Here

Posted By on Mon, Nov 23, 2009 at 11:59 AM

While being tossed through a plate-glass window is a staple of the action movie genre, it is less pleasant -- or common -- in reality. So when a BART police officer was caught over the weekend at West Oakland Station in a YouTube video titled "Officer Breaks Window With Drunks Face" it quickly became far bigger news than your standard detention of a noisy passenger -- and don't think the questions swirling around the BART police in the wake of the January shooting of Oscar Grant wasn't a factor.

A pair of veteran San Francisco police officers viewing the video at SF Weekly's behest said they couldn't find anything egregiously wrong in the manner the unnamed BART officer detained Michael Gibson. But both noted that San Francisco Police policy on "wall searches" would ostensibly keep this situation from occurring in the city.

"Years ago, we did searches [of detained suspects] against walls or against cars," said Kevin Martin, a 28-year police veteran and the vice president of San Francisco's police union. "We've gotten away from that so [suspects] don't have something to brace their body against and push back, affording them the opportunity to physically resist, attack, or escape."

Sergeant Carl T, also a 28-year SFPD veteran, concurs. A suspect with his or her hands on the wall is in far better position to overpower an officer than a person with no leverage. "In the old days you'd see guys spread-eagled against the wall," says T. "What we do now is tell them to interlock their fingers on top of their heads."

When asked how he'd have handled the situation, T -- a hostage and crisis negotiator who has handled countless tense situations -- said he would have walked the erratic suspect away from the railroad tracks and stood him several feet from the window, with the bench to the suspect's left. That way, the suspect would have been "restrained physically on three sides." While both T -- and, yes, T is the policeman's full name -- and Martin were loath to criticize the action undertaken by the BART police officer, T noted that the arrest had gotten "out of control" by the time the window was shattered. "Did it look like he got too close to the wall too fast?" asked T. "Yeah, it looked that way."

As for the breaking glass -- without which, certainly, this would not have become a widely reported story -- both San Francisco cops noticed that Gibson appeared to strike the window with his right hand prior to its shattering. Still, from this video alone, it is unclear whether Gibson lunged at the window and broke it, or the officer pushed Gibson through the window.

"When an officer is alone, it changes the dynamic of how he acts. He may have deemed the wall the safest place -- and how it went down at the wall could be second-guessed," said T. "It's funny -- so much of what we do is procedural. But the big issues always result from the split-second decision-making process."  


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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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