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Friday, April 16, 2010

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cops turn in Tasers for more training

April 15, 2010
By Denis Cuff, Contra Costa Times

BART ordered its police officers Thursday to turn in their Tasers until the entire force can get more training in use of the weapon. The move comes ahead of the murder trial of a former BART police officer who shot an unarmed passenger last year.

Interim police Chief Dash Butler said he ordered a weeks-long time out for the stun guns to allow for more training in Taser policies and procedures.

Butler said he wants to make sure officers are familiar with court rulings that limit use of Tasers to defensive purposes. "It was already planned because of the court rulings," he said.

Butler acknowledged greater urgency for the move following an incident earlier this month in which a BART police officer fired a Taser at someone under circumstances that led to an internal affairs investigation. Butler declined to give details of the incident or comment on a television news report that the officer had fired at a 13-year-old boy fleeing on a bicycle.

The officer missed his target, Butler said. The Taser's use, coupled with the fact that the chief was not informed of the incident until several days later, raised concerns.

He said the training will emphasize BART procedures that officers must wear the Taser holster on their weak side — the side of their nondominant arm.

Previous BART policies allowed officers to wear the Taser holster in different ways, but "there is only one way now," Butler said.

Taser use is an issue in the defense of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle, who is charged in the Jan. 1, 2009, fatal shooting of Oscar Grant III, an unarmed BART passenger.

His defense team says Mehserle thought he was firing his Taser instead of his revolver at Grant.

John Burris, an Oakland attorney representing Grant's family, applauded the decision. "It was wise to take (the Tasers) from officers and retrain them so they understand both the law and the proper use."

Burris said he does not accept Mehserle's defense, but he added that even using a Taser on Grant would have been an "inappropriate use of force."

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