The BART board of directors meeting was packed this morning with family members of Sahleem Tindle, the 28-year-old man who was fatally shot in the back in January by a BART police officer in West Oakland.
The incident is still under criminal investigation by Oakland police, and BART is conducting its own administrative review to see if officer Joseph Mateu violated agency policies.
But Tindle’s family called on the board to immediately take Mateu off the streets. The officer was placed back on full duty two weeks after the shooting.
“It’s an insult,” Tindle’s mother Yolanda Banks Reed told BART directors during public comment, referring to Mateu’s quick return to work. She called the shooting unjustified and demanded quick action.
Other members of Tindle’s family said they believed he was in the process of complying with the officer’s commands to put his hands up just before Mateu shot Tindle three times in the back. A legal claim filed last week by the family against BART makes the same assertion.
Yesterday, BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas said that Mateu did the right thing by running toward gunfire and called him courageous for responding to the scene of the altercation where several gunshots had already rang out. It’s unclear who fired a gun in the area before the officer arrived, however.
Tindle’s family cricitized the statement today. They said it was impossible to tell, from the video, who shot a gun before the officer arrived. And they said a gun doesn’t clearly appear anywhere in the video in Tindle’s hands.
But when asked after today’s board meeting about his characterization of Mateu, Rojas reaffirmed his statement.
“Anybody who is running toward gunshots to help a member of our community, that is courageous,” he said.
The release of two versions of the video of Tindle’s death, first by his family and then by BART, has stoked controversy about whether the shooting was justified.
To the family, the video is clear evidence of a murder.
To BART’s police chief, it shows an officer running toward gunfire and intervening in a dangerous situation.
Tindle’s family and attorney John Burris were originally shown Officer Mateu’s body camera video during a recent visit to the Oakland Police Department. The family later released a portion of the video showing what appeared to be two men struggling. Mateu’s hands can be seen gripping his pistol and firing three times into Tindle’s back.
Yesterday, BART released a lengthier copy of the video in response to the segment issued by Tindle’s family. It appears to show Mateu inside the West Oakland BART Station when two shots ring out. People nearby begin to panic and yell that someone is shooting. Mateu then runs out of the station, calls through his radio “shots fire,” and crosses 7th Street.
In the video, Mateu approaches two men struggling. He orders them to put their hands up and second later shoots Tindle in the back.
Tindle’s family criticized Mateu today for not identifying himself as a police officer. In the video, he doesn’t appear to say “police.”
BART’s copy of the video includes freeze frames attached to the end which include bright yellow circles around an object that the two men appear to be wrestling to gain control over. Rojas said today that the object was a gun that was recovered by OPD on the scene.
OPD has yet to say whose gun it was.
“Joseph Mateu thought he was a damn cowboy and shot my brother in the back,” said Laron Mayfield, Sahleem’s brother.
Mayfield told the Express outside today’s BART board meeting that his brother was taking his family, including several children, to the West Oakland BART station when he got into an altercation with a man known as “Ray.” But he said he knew nothing more of the incident.
The identity of the man who was wrestling with Tindle when he was shot has not been made public . Rojas said at a press conference yesterday that he doesn’t know the man’s name. OPD hasn’t released his identity, or any further details about the incident that led up to the struggle and fatal shooting.
Tindle’s death, on Jan. 3, fell two days after the 9th anniversary of Oscar Grant’s killing by a BART police officer at Fruitvale Station.
Grant’s uncle, Cephus Johnson, attended today’s BART board meeting to support Tindle’s family. He called the incident a “resurrection” of Grant’s killing and alluded to the rebellion afterward that resulted in weeks of demonstrations and violent clashes between protesters and the police.
“While he’s on post,” Johnson said about Mateu’s return to active duty, “ya’ll remember the smell of smoke.”