SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Calling the police shooting of an allegedly unarmed black man "unconscionable," the family of Sahleem Tindle sued the San Francisco Bay Area's public transit agency Wednesday night, seeking punitive damages.
Tindle was shot and killed Jan. 3 by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer responding to the sound of gunshots fired across the street from the West Oakland BART station.
A police body camera video shows BART officer Joseph Mateu III running from the station to the nearby corner of 7th and Chester streets, where he found two men tussling on the ground, reportedly wrestling to gain control of a handgun. The officer yelled "let me see your hands" multiple times before unloading three bullets in Tindle's back.
Tindle's family says the father of two was just starting to rise from the ground and raise his hands to comply with Mateu's orders when he was shot and killed.
Mateu "failed to provide decedent Tindle the reasonable opportunity to surrender prior to shooting him in the back," the family states in their 12-page complaint.
At a news conference in February, BART Police Chief Carlos Rajos defended Mateu's actions, saying the officer showed "courage" by running toward the sound of gunshots. The chief said Tindle had already shot and wounded the man he was fighting with on the ground and that Tindle appeared to be holding a gun when he was killed.
But Tindle's family insists the 28-year-old was unarmed and trying to comply with Mateu's orders.
"Defendant Officer Mateu unreasonably afforded Mr. Tindle no opportunity to complete his obvious act of compliance when he hastily shot Mr. Tindle in the back without reasonably ascertaining the location of the firearm, who had fired it, and whether anyone at the scene presented a threat at that moment," the family says in their complaint.
Tindle was transported to Highland Hospital in Oakland, where he was later pronounced dead from gunshot wounds, according to the complaint.
The shooting sparked multiple protests at BART board meetings and outside the Oakland police station this year.
BART spokesman Jim Allison said the agency conducted an internal investigation into the shooting, but the results of that investigation are confidential. The Alameda County District Attorney's Office and Oakland Police Department, which conducted a separate probe, did not immediately return emails and phone calls seeking information on that investigation.
The Tindle family's lawsuit cites the 2009 fatal police shooting of Oscar Grant at Oakland's Fruitvale BART station as evidence of a custom and practice that enables excessive use of force. The family says Chief Rajos failed to properly train officers, and that BART did not adequately investigate Mateu's background before hiring him.
Mateu started working for BART as a community service assistant in 2003. He became a police officer in 2005 and was promoted to the rank of senior officer in 2010, according to Allison.
Tindle's family seeks special damages, punitive damages and an injunction prohibiting BART from endorsing customs and practices that permit the use of excessive force.
The plaintiffs include Tindle's two minor children and his mother, Yolanda Banks-Reed, along with his estate and its administrator Laron Mayfield.
Tindle's family is represented by John Burris, the same Oakland-based civil rights attorney representing the families of Mario Woods and Luis Gongora Pat in two high-profile wrongful death suits against the San Francisco police.
Allison said BART has not yet been served with the lawsuit, and he offered no immediate comment on the family’s allegations.
BART's Independent Police Auditor Russell Bloom said in a phone interview that his office is conducting a separate, ongoing investigation into the Tindle shooting. When completed, the results will be presented to BART's Police Citizen Review Board in a closed session, along with any policy recommendations that come with it.
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