State Law Needed for BART Police Watchdog Group

Groups urge lawmakers to act fast

By Jessica Greene and Jodi Hernandez
|  Monday, Aug 24, 2009  |  Updated 12:45 PM PDT
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State Law Needed for BART Police Watchdog Group

The family of a man slain by a Bay Area transit police officer early New Year's Day has filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit.

The uncle of an unarmed man shot to death at the Fruitvale BART station on New Year's Day joined community members, city leaders and board members from Bay Area Rapid Transit in Oakland Monday to convince state lawmakers that there needs to be a citizen oversight committee for the transit agency's police.

The call for an oversight committee was sparked by the New Year's Day shooting death of Grant by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, who later resigned from the force and now faces trial for murder.

The transit district voted unaminously on Aug. 13 to approve independent citizen oversight of the BART Police Department but it needs legislature to pass an amendment of the BART ACT to make the group official and implement it.

Grant's uncle, Cephus Johnson, joined BART Board and community members on Monday to urge the legislature to pass a bill before September 11, when the lawmakers go on recess, so BART can establish the watchdog group this year.

Johnson says the transit agency and community must work fast to come up with a plan together.

"We have no time to waste." Johnson said. "Our family has suffered a great loss this year. We have struggled. We have vowed to find meaning in this tragedy ... to make sure this doesn't hapen again."

BART board member Carole Ward Allen says the window of opportunity is closing fast. Community members and BART have met the challenge, Ward says, so now it's up to the state legislature to act -- and soon.

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