OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The brother of a homeless man who was fatally shot by a BART police officer last July has filed a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit claiming that he didn’t pose a serious danger even though he was armed with two knives and a bottle.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland by Chris Hill, the brother of 45-year-old Charles Hill, concedes that Charles Hill threw a knife at officers James Crowell and Myron Lee at the Civic Center BART station in San Francisco at about 9:45 p.m. on July 3.
The knife was 8 inches long and had a 4-inch blade, according to BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey.
But the suit states that the knife missed Crowell, and that Crowell then “inexplicably” and “unlawfully” shot Hill three times in the chest, mortally wounding him “even though the immediate threat of harm to Crowell had already passed and Mr. Hill was standing 15 to 20 feet away from him.”
The suit, filed by Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, said Hill “was celebrating the eve of America’s Independence Day” at the Civic Center station when he was noticed by a BART employee who told police that he was holding an open bottle of alcohol on the platform.
The employee described Hill as drunk and said he wobbling on the platform “but did not mention that Hill appeared armed or that he was a threat to anyone,” the suit states.
According to the suit, eyewitnesses to the incident described Hill as a “drunk hippie.”
Hill “was a small, disheveled-looking middle aged white man” and stood “a mere 5-foot-6-inches tall and weighed a spindly 150 pounds” and was wearing pants, a tie-dye shirt and a long gray suit, according to the lawsuit.
It alleges that when Crowley and Lee arrived at the station they saw passengers milling about and not acting as if they perceived Hill as a threat.
The suit states that the two officers “immediately escalated the situation by shouting conflicting and confusing commands at Mr. Hill.”
Hill responded by throwing down his bottle of alcohol but Crowell “further escalated the situation by pulling his firearm and aiming it at Mr. Hill,” the suit says.
Hill responded by slowly “walking like Frankenstein” toward them and then throwing a knife, according to the suit.
The suit seeks unspecified damages from BART, Rainey and the two officers.
Burris said the suit was filed on behalf of Hill’s brother, who lives on the East Coast, because his parents are deceased.
BART spokesman Jim Allison wasn’t immediately available for comment this morning.
Rainey released a video of the shooting last July 21, at which time he said Crowley had apparently shot Hill because he “felt threatened in some way.”
Rainey said officers are justified in using a gun if they believe a suspect could cause “serious injury or death” either to officers or the public.”
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