The BART police officer who shot and killed Charles Hill was a “newbie” with 18-months on the force, according to recordings of BART police communications released to The Bay Citizen Friday.
BART police have refused to identify the two officers involved in the July 3 shooting, saying only that one had six years of experience and the other 18 months. BART blacked out the face of the officer who shot Hill when it released surveillance camera video of the incident Thursday.
But in one recorded conversation shortly after the incident, a BART police employee asks about the officer who shot Hill. “He’s one of the newbies,” the dispatcher responds. “Holy shit,” the man says.
The recordings also reveal that BART personnel at first did not view Hill, a 45-year-old homeless man, as an immediate threat to himself or others.
In the first call to dispatchers, someone who appears to be a BART employee at the Civic Center station calmly reports that a white man in a tie-dyed t-shirt and khaki pants is “walking on the platform with an open bottle of alcohol.”
The same person calls back some time later and calmly tells dispatchers, “Our guy with the alcohol at Civic Center. He’s still there. He’s kind of wobbling around.” The recordings do not indicate how much time elapsed between calls.
There appear to be no communications between dispatchers and the two BART police officers during the 25-seconds between when they arrived at the Civic Center station and when Hill was shot.
The first call after the shooting comes from an officer on the scene, who radios in, “Shots fired. Code 3 ambulance. He had a knife. Officer involved shooting.”
In the minutes immediately following the shooting, the calls among BART police personnel show a deep concern for the two officers. In one call, a department employee trying to find a police technician to go the scene contacts one who is on vacation in Utah.
“There was an officer involved shooting . . .,” she says.
“Oh my gosh. Okay,” he says.
“Is everyone okay?”
“Yes, the suspect was shot. Not us,” she says. “So, we’re okay.”
“Can I ask you a question about it? Is the victim not going to make it?”
“We don’t know,” she answers. “CPR was being performed on him and at least three shots loaded into him that I saw from the platform . . . He had a knife so, and he was resisting officers; he was fighting.”
“I’m only asking because we’re family. That’s why I’m asking to make sure everyone’s okay.”
The recordings also indicate San Francisco Police Department investigators were concerned that BART trains traveling through the station after the shooting were blowing around evidence, including shell casings. The SFPD is one of four agencies investigating the shooting.
BART has also released two different surveillance videos during the past two days. The video released Thursday showed the young white officer getting off a BART train at Civic Center station with his partner at around 9:45 p.m.
The video then shows the young officer putting on his gloves, an indication, BART police said, that the officer was preparing to take Hill into custody. According to police, it’s at that point that Hill throws a bottle at the officers.
Police said the other officer suffered a minor cut on his arm as a result. Dispatch calls reveal the injured officer is the six-year veteran.
Hill, who is white, is not shown in the video and, for the most part, neither is the other officer. But the young officer can be seen walking toward someone off camera. He approaches slowly before suddenly stepping back and drawing his gun –- and within seconds –- firing three shots while passengers, including at least one child, are nearby.
BART’s Chief of Police, Kenton Rainey, said at a press conference Thursday that Hill raised a knife with a 4-inch blade over his head menacingly and didn’t drop the weapon when ordered by the young officer. Rainey would not say how far away Hill was, but the homeless man cannot be seen in the frame.
A witness told the Bay Citizen earlier this month that Hill was “definitely” not “running or lunging” at the officers when he was shot.
Chief Rainey has consistently backed his officers and the actions they took, saying “the notion that you have to be stabbed, beaten or shot before defending yourself is false.” According to BART police, Hill was armed with two knives. Rainey said Thursday that the young officer who shot Hill was the one in danger, not the other officer or any member of the public.
Rainey said that neither of the officers had been involved in a shooting incident before. Deputy Chief Daniel Hartwig called both of them “productive” police officers.
On Friday night, Rainey released a second surveillance surveillance video in response to questions from reporters. “Members of the media have asked if there was any other video from BART’s cameras of the platform directly behind suspect Charles Hill. I was misinformed,” Rainey said in a statement. “The answer is yes. However, it does not have any evidentiary value.”
The second video is from a camera “located approximately 600 feet away from the incident and on the opposite platform,” according to Rainey’s statement. It was the only other camera recording at the time of the shooting, Rainey said.
But that video provides a glimpse of what passengers may have experienced immediately after the shooting. In one portion of the video, a woman, a man, and a small child appear to take cover behind an escalator on the platform. The same people appear briefly on the first video, scurrying away from the shooting scene.
Rainey released the tapes in an effort to be more transparent; his department was criticized for witholding information after the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle.
At the time of that shooting, Mehserle, like the officer who shot Hill, had less than two years of experience on the force.