Police Shooting Disaster, San Francisco

Sergeant Tom Smith, BART PD. End of Watch 21 Jan 2014.

Sergeant Tom Smith, BART PD. End of Watch 21 Jan 2014.

Riddle us this: someone shot a cop, everyone knows who did it, but no one is charged. What happened?

His partner shot him.

A BART police officer was fatally shot by a department colleague Tuesday afternoon during a probation check in the East Bay, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

KRON has confirmed that the officer, Tom Smith, 42, of Hayward, was a 20-year veteran of the BART police department.

“BART has been informed that one of our officers has died from wounds sustained during a shooting earlier today,” BART officials said.

The shooting was reported at 1:03 p.m. at the Park Sierra Apartments at Iron Horse Trail at 6450 Dougherty Rd. in Dublin.

Smith and several other officers had forced their way inside one of the units during a probation check when the shooting occurred. The subject of the search was on probation for a crime committed on BART property and was not at the residence at the time of the incident.

Both officers were wearing bullet-proof vests, according to officials.

Smith was transported to Eden Medical Center where he died from his injuries. The identity of the officers are not being released at this time.

Officials said that today’s fatal shooting is the first time a BART officer was killed in the line of duty.

via BART Police Officer Fatally Shot By Fellow Officer « KRON4.

BART police are transit cops in San Francisco. The department at first refused to ID the shooter, except to say that he’s a 10-year-veteran and “extremely upset” — so upset that Chief Kenton Rainey wasn’t pushing to interview him. The shooter was later identified as Detective Michael Maes, also a veteran (12 years at BART and 14 at a previous department).

Maybe he mistook his partner for someone else, the Sheriff’s Department’s sergeant JD Nelson said. Or maybe it was just a negligent discharge. Nelson, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department charged with the investigation, and Chief Rainey don’t seem to be in a hurry to find out.

Hey, maybe he and his lawyer just need more time to get their story together.

Tom Smith is out of time. Selection and training of police officers has consequences. And a culture of impunity for reckless negligence also has consequences.  For 40 years, the BART PD got away with it. It probably doesn’t seem worth it now.

Exercise for the reader: find a cop fired for a negligent discharge.

UPDATE I: Media Report

Contra Costa Times:

Rainey also would not address media reports, citing anonymous sources, indicating that Smith was shot by a startled Maes when Smith exited a different door from the one he entered during the search. The apartment’s bathroom has dual entrances, according to its floor plan.

Maes, the shooter, was reportedly not only a co-worker but a friend of Smith. Maes fired one shot and Smith was hit once in the armpit area (outside the coverage of his vest). The chief has now put tighter restrictions on when the unit in question can serve search warrants, and who must sign off on such searches.

(Note the common result here: actions that would not have prevented the mishap being taken, for the sake of Do Something!! At times like these, don’t just do something… stand there. Then figure out if there is something you can do that would have prevented the shooting — like stress inoculation training, and force-on-force with lots of shoot/no-shoot calls, for all officers).

Finally, the press is insinuating that the uniformed officers’ vest cams were turned off at the time of the shooting.  This may just be press boo-jit. But if it was really so, that’s a real dumb move — cameras have saved a lot more officers from false accusations than have exposed real wrongdoing, probably because false accusations are a lot more common that real wrongdoing. (Was there ever a miscreant lugged that didn’t cry out, “Police brutality!”?)

UPDATE II: Memorial Fund

If you would like to help the Smith family, an account has been set up:

The Tommy Smith Memorial Fund has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank. Deposits can be made at any Wells Fargo Bank, Account # 5148561086 under Kellie Smith. Or they can be mailed to:

Tommy Smith Memorial Fund C/O Wells Fargo
11020 Bollinger Canyon Road, Suite 1
San Ramon, CA 94582

10 thoughts on “Police Shooting Disaster, San Francisco

  1. Aesop

    Thus demonstrating yet again, that transit cops should leave the door-kicking to guys who do it all the time, for the same reason they shouldn’t have SWAT teams manning the trains and train platforms.

    These kind of things will continue to happen until some chiefs get their heads out, and realize that there’s nothing wrong with being good at their job without needing to be good at everyone’s job.

    Presumably, the BART cops don’t have an air support unit, harbor patrol, or skydiving team either.
    This is a feature, not a bug.

    They should concentrate on making sure all their officers can tell a Taser from a firearm on their own belt, and hand off other tasks, like warrant service, to the local police and sheriff’s teams.

    This kind of thing doubly sucks because it takes out two otherwise decent officers for the price of one. The persons to fire or discipline and demote are the guys who decided they should be serving warrants, and the one(s) who trained their team. If that’s the chief, public seppuku, at least metaphorically and occupationally, are in order.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Apparently the way it works in CA is because the guy’s original crime was a transit crime the transit cops own him for probation. So it was some kind of probation deal — and the guy was probably a bad actor, enough that the cops were jumpy and guns out.

      “Friendly coming through/out” would have deconflicted that. (We used to use code words for that, if a guy was shouting a word that the local indig would stumble over, think Japanese with the letter “L,” he was probably not the guy you were trying to snatch or pop).

      1. Aesop

        All true, and underlining the point that it’s easier to hand the warrant to the local real SWAT team than to teach house-clearing to BART cops, and not as hard on officer survival stats.

        BART could have sent an officer or two along to observe and take custody afterwards, or even work the scene once it was secure, if only that agency hadn’t been so busy tripping over their Johnson that they killed their Smith.

        Someone’s (probably pencil-pushing) ego killed Tommy Smith, and probably ruined Det. Maes for life, if he’s any sort of a decent guy. Career seppuku for whoever adopted and promoted this asinine policy, and that mercy only because the other kind would cost another family needless grief, and necessitate another all-hands official funeral.

        Just rip the guys shoulderboards off, and drum him out the front door as the assembled rank and file turn their backs on him.

  2. AndyN

    I think your suggestions for how to prevent a recurrence are great, but I think they should be instituted in addition to the immediate steps the chief took, not instead of. Training takes time, reducing the frequency with which the skills honed in training are needed doesn’t have to. Until such time as all BART cops can receive sufficient “stress inoculation training, and force-on-force with lots of shoot/no-shoot calls,” tell them that if they need to check on a parolee they can sit outside his home and wait until a chance to detain him safely presents itself, then have him walk them through his home in their custody.

  3. TexTopCat

    The “shoot/no shoot” training seems to be flawed in many cases. The only difference between the target you shoot and the one you do not shoot is a prescience of a gun. The training needs to be changed to use the idea of “intent” as to determine who to shoot, and yes more complicated but very important. We are going to see more and more of this in both the blue on blue variety and on the case where citizens are shot only because they happen to have a gun in their hand and not having any ill intent. We will see more citizens with guns, the police need to change their training and actions to protect the good citizens with guns and not shoot them.

    1. Eric

      I defer to our host when it comes to the final call, but I really believe that your post makes the case better than any other for more force-on-force training. Traditional live fire against paper targets that differ only in whether the “bad guy” is holding a gun or a badge is decades behind a well designed force-on-force program with good role players who display realistic behavior.
      The reality of it, though, is that most agencies will likely stick with what they’ve “always done” for all the wrong reasons.

    2. Hognose Post author

      Actually, what’s missing in a lot of the training is motion, and surprise. We could probably save 8-10 cops’ lives a year if we could train them to get off the X and keep moving, to fire on the move, etc. I taught a similar scenario (a guy suddenly bursts on the scene, black guy with a gun, but he’s an off-duty officer trying to assist) to a class at the Jamaica Comstabulary Police Academy in Spanish Town, based on a real-world disaster the Providence, RI, PD had just had.

      The Jamaicans were very critical of that scenario, saying that they were too professional to F up like that (that’s what Providence thought, too) and that since their country was 90-some % black, they didn’t have the American racial baggage — all their cops were black guys, all their criminals too, pretty much. They’re not going to automatically plug some poor bastard for “driving while black.” A couple days later, one of their patrols did exactly the same thing. The guy that they shot was young (23?) and had just become a father.

      The kid in Providence was much the same deal, young, son of the police chief, gung-ho cop who loved responding to dangerous calls. I don’t know what happened to the shooters in either case, but you couldn’t blame them if they had issues.

      The guy who blamed himself for my old team’s range accident pretty much drank himself to death by age 50 or so. The investigation could not determine who fired the wounding shot, but this guy always thought it was him, and he withdrew from the unit and his friends and even his wife…. These things are decisions made in microseconds that have consequences that reverberate for years. All you can do is try to train as thoroughly as possible, because in the heat of the moment you fall back on your training. If your training is 100% focused on “draw and engage the threat” that’s what you’ll do.

  4. AlanH

    At some point the answer cannot simply be ‘more training, better training.’ LEO’s are taught to keep their finger off the trigger from the first range day at the academy. The training has already been done, and is consistent on the point. What is missing is consistent consequences for ignoring the training.

    The incident in question did not involve confusion about threats versus non-threats. The apartment door was unlocked. There was no ‘forced entry.’ What there was was a presumption that the guy was home, based on the unlocked door. As it happens the guy (free on bond pre-trial) had already been picked up by BART. What is needed in this case is consequences: Entering a dwelling with your finger on the trigger should be a firing offence. Negligently killing another person is a criminal offense. It should be charged, the LEO prosecuted. The training is there. Only consequences force people to comply with it, not making up there own counter-rule such as “I’m special. I can have my finger on the trigger to shoot faster because I’m a master of trigger control, unlike other wimps on the force.”

    1. Hognose Post author

      For fifty years, the FBI academy taught local cops to keep their fingers on the trigger. Some badly led and irresponsibly-trained departments still do this (Framingham, MA is one. They shot a guy in the back of the head while he was compliant and on his belly with his hands back to be cuffed, when the cop going to cuff him stumbled and pulled the trigger of his M4. The guy was not a suspect, he was an old man not suspected of anything, but their protocol is you “take control”). That cop is still on patrol and serving warrants with that department, and is still keeping his finger on the trigger at all times.

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