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article imageLawsuit: Slain California transit officer sought better training

By Nathan Salant     Jun 2, 2015 in Crime
San Francisco - A California transit cop killed by friendly fire during a search last year had urged his wife to sue his department for failing to provide better training for his fellow officers, a lawsuit filed Friday has alleged.
Kellie Smith, wife of slain BART police Sgt. Tom Smith, also contends that the department routinely declined to use its highly trained SWAT team in dangerous situations, such as the blind apartment search that resulted in the tragedy.
Sgt. Smith was killed in January 2014 when he was shot by a detective helping to search a Dublin, Calif., apartment for property believed stolen from BART stations, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.
BART stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit, a regional transportation system that links San Francisco and Oakland with dozens of communities in the region.
Kellie Smith's lawsuit alleges that BART management refused to provide additional training to officers as requested and, in fact, disparaged Sgt. Smith for requesting it.
The suit seeks unspecified damages and a court order preventing BART from assigning officers to tasks they were not trained for.
"Deputy Police Chief Ben Fairow 'denied training and denigrated officers when training and/or involvement of tactical teams were discussed,' saying that it was all 'bull—' and that officers were 'pussies' because they had 'training like this in the police academy,' the lawsuit says, according to the newspaper.
Smith “never received any of the specialized building search training he requested,” the lawsuit said.
While the lawsuit says BART did send some officers for building search training in the aftermath of Smith's shooting, "BART continues its practice of not requiring all officers to be tactically trained, and not automatically approving tactical training on officers' requests."
Det. Michael Maes, who shot Smith after apparently mistaking him for a suspect, declined to comment, the newspaper said.
Maes was one of five officers who went to search the home of 20-year-old John Henry Lee, who had been arrested five days earlier on suspicion of robbery and was in custody.
Chief Kenton Rainey and Deputy Chief Benson Fairow have made public comments about the tragedy, the newspaper said.
“The BART family continues to mourn the loss of Sgt. Tommy Smith," said Dana Fox, a BART attorney.
"The shooting was a tragedy that occurred despite the training the officers had received, which far exceeded (standard peace officer) standards,” Fox said.
But Kellie Smith's attorney, Joseph Lucia, said the events exposed problems with BART's police department that needed to be taken care of to prevent future tragedies.
“When it comes to a situation where an officer is requesting the very training that ultimately led to this tragic incident, there’s a problem with it, and that needs to be rectified,” Lucia said.
The friendly fire shooting reopened questions about the effectiveness of BART police that have arisen periodically, particularly after the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black teen, at the transit system's Fruitvale Station in Oakland.
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