Jury Awards $6.3M to Family of Man Fatally Shot by BART Officer

Yolanda Banks, the mother of Sahleem Tindle
Anda Chu/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

A federal jury has ordered BART to pay $6.34 million in damages to the family of a 28-year-old man who was fatally shot by a BART police officer near the West Oakland station two years ago.

At the end of a two-week trial in U.S. District Court in Oakland, jurors on Wednesday awarded $5.7 million in damages to the family of Sahleem Tindle because his constitutional rights were violated by the use of excessive force by Officer Joseph Mateu and an additional $608,000 to his two children because Mateu was negligent.

The Alameda County District Attorney's Office said in a 48-page report in October 2018 that it wouldn't file criminal charges against Mateu because he acted in what he reasonably believed to be self-defense in the incident across the street from the West Oakland station at about 4:40 p.m. on Jan. 3, 2018.

The report said Mateu fatally shot Tindle three times in the back while Tindle struggled over control of a gun with another man in the 1400 block of Seventh Street across the street from the West Oakland station at about 4:40 p.m. on Jan. 3.

The majority of the witnesses in the District Attorney's report said they believed Tindle was the aggressor in the fight with the other man, who wasn't named.

The report said Tindle was walking with his fiance, their two young children and his fiance's sister toward the West Oakland BART station, intending to travel on BART to San Francisco, when he got into  a confrontation with the other man after the other man accused Tindle of stealing a bag containing Air Jordan shoes that he'd inadvertently left on the sidewalk.

The District Attorney said Tindle and the other man eventually separated but Tindle's fiancee egged him on and told him to "pop" the other man and "knock him out."

The report said the other man "grabbed" Tindle a few minutes later and the two men began struggling in front of a barber shop at the corner of Seventh and Chester streets and during the struggle Tindle pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and two shots were fired.

One of the shots went through a window at the barber shop, although no one there was hit, but the other shot caused a wound to the other man's leg, according to the report.

Mateu was inside the West Oakland at the time of the initial shooting and raced across the street to the scene, where he saw Tindle holding a gun in his left hand, the report said.

Tindle and the other man ignored Mateu's repeated commands to show their hands as they struggled over the gun and at some point Mateu could no longer see the gun, according to the report.

Mateu told investigators he feared Tindle might have the gun in his right hand and could have been pointing the gun at the other man and also said he feared that if Tindle stood up he could have turned to shoot the other man or turned around to shoot him, the report said.

Mateu then fired "three rapid shots into Mr. Tindle's back," according to the report.

Oakland civil rights Attorney John Burris, who represented Tindle's family, said in a statement, "The "shooting was outrageous in that Tindle was shot in cold blood with his back to the officer while attempting to surrender by raising his empty left hand."

Burris said, "Tindle could not raise his right hand because the other man was holding it down as they continued to struggle over the gun."

Burris said he successfully argued to the jury that Mateu panicked when he couldn't see Tindle's right hand and later admitted that he did see Tindle and the other man struggling when he shot Tingle in the back.

Burris said he's also critical of Mateu for not giving a warning before firing his weapon, which he said is contrary to BART policy that requires giving a warning when feasible.

Burris said Mateu had ample time to give a warning to both men once he saw the weapon.

BART spokesman James Allison said, "We respect the process. We are currently reviewing our options."

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