BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas strongly defended the actions of an officer Wednesday who fatally shot a man near the West Oakland BART station in January.
Speaking at a news conference at BART’s Oakland headquarters, Rojas said he believes a video from Officer Joseph Mateu’s body camera that the transit agency released today indicates that 28-year-old Sahleem Tindle didn’t have his hands up when Mateu shot him three times on a sidewalk in the 1400 block of Seventh Street across the street from the West Oakland station at about 4:40 p.m. on Jan. 3.
However, the video appears to show the officer shooting Tindle three times in the back as Tindle was struggling with another man on the sidewalk and shows that Tindle raised his hands after he was shot.
Rojas said multiple independent investigations by the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office will decide whether Mateu’s use of force was justified and if he should face criminal charges.
However, Rojas said he released the video today and talked about his interpretation of what it shows to “dispel misinformation that’s placed out there” and discuss “the facts as I see them.” The Oakland Police Department, which is investigating the shooting because it happened on the city’s property, recently showed the video to Tindle’s family and Rojas said “somebody surreptitiously recorded it” on their cellphone and released part of it on social media.
Rojas said Mateu was investigating a fare invasion incident at the West Oakland station when he heard two gunshots across the street.
“As people were running into the station away from the gunfire, Officer Mateu ran across the street toward the gunfire. I call that courage.”
The BART chief said within less than a minute Mateu “was confronted with a situation he didn’t create.” Rojas said he believes the video indicates that Tindle fired two shots at the man with whom he was struggling and that there was a gun on the ground near him, describing that initial shooting as either an assault with a deadly weapon or an attempted homicide.
The chief also said he thinks the video indicates that the hands of the man who Tindle was struggling with were empty, which he believes shows that the man hadn’t possessed a gun.
“I want to remind folks to reserve their judgment as to the conduct of our officer until the investigations have run their course.”
Oakland police officials said shortly after the shooting that Tindle was armed and refused commands when Mateu shot him.
Civil rights attorney John Burris, who represents Tindle’s family, disputed the police account at a rally at the West Oakland station last week, saying that Tindle did not appear to be armed when he was shot and was given insufficient time to comply with Tindle’s command to let him see his hands.
Burris said Tindle, who was the father of a young boy and girl, had “a puzzled look” on his face when the officer shot him, as if he wondered why the officer was shooting him.
Burris also said Mateu should be charged with murder for the fatal shooting and said he has filed a claim with the BART Police Department on behalf of Tindle’s family.
Mateu was hired as a community service assistant for BART police in May 2003, was sworn in as a police officer in November 2007 and was promoted to senior police officer in January 2010.
Mateu initially was placed on paid administrative leave but was cleared to return to work two weeks after the shooting, Rojas said.
BART officials have made the body camera video of the shooting available on YouTube. Viewer discretion advised.