OAKLAND — An emotional BART board apologized Thursday for the death of an unarmed passenger who was shot in the back by a transit police officer on New Year's Day.
Responding to a public outcry over the death of Oscar Grant III at the Fruitvale BART station, the transit board also vowed to create a new committee to look into police issues and consider the possibility of setting up a civilian police review board for the transit agency.
BART board members — some with voices cracking with emotion — apologized for the death of Grant, a 22-year-old black man, as he lay on his stomach at a train platform where police had ordered several riders to the ground after a dispute among riders on a train.
"I think what the community needs to hear is that we apologize to his family," Bob Franklin, a BART board member from Oakland, said after hearing 60 public speakers over six hours denounce the shooting. "As a board member, I apologize."
Other directors agreed, saying that they are distraught over Grant's death and feel sorry even if they have been reluctant to comment on details of the investigation into the shooting, which was recorded by several riders' cell phone cameras and posted on the Internet.
"That young man did nothing wrong that should have caused him to lose his life that morning," said BART board member Joel Keller of Antioch. "I'm sorry."
The board will hold a special meeting soon to create a new public safety committee to look into police issues such as officer training and hiring.
BART board member Tom Radulovich of San Francisco proposed that the new board committee look into creating a civilian police review board to monitor police activities.
The board members' statements — and their adjournment of their meeting in Grant's honor — came after many public speakers crowded into the meeting and expressed outrage about the shooting. More than 200 people attended, exceeding the room capacity and prompting authorities to keep some people outside until others left and room opened for newcomers.
Several speakers demanded the immediate arrest of the officer involved.
"Seek out and arrest that man so you can bring charges on him," said Keith Muhammad, a local minister for the Nation of Islam. "He must not be given the chance to get away."
Johannes Mehserle, a former BART police officer who quit his job Wednesday, is under investigation by BART and the Alameda County district attorney's office in the shooting of Grant.
In several witness videos, an unarmed Grant appears to be facedown on the ground when Mehserle appears to draw his gun and shoot Grant.
BART board members said they could not take any action related to the shooting Thursday because they had not placed it on the agenda to give the required public notice before acting. However, the board agreed to listen to everyone who spoke.