Slain transit officer knew dangers of police work

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In this undated photo released by Bay Area Rapid Transit shows police Sgt. Tom Smith. Authorities say the BART police officer was shot and killed by a fellow officer while searching an apartment looking for a laptop and other stolen items on Tuesday Jan. 21, 2014 in Dublin, Calif. (AP Photo/Bay Area Rapid Transit)

In this undated photo released by Bay Area Rapid Transit shows police Sgt. Tom Smith. Authorities say the BART police officer was shot and killed by a fellow officer while searching an apartment looking for a laptop and other stolen items on Tuesday Jan. 21, 2014 in Dublin, Calif. (AP Photo/Bay Area Rapid Transit)

Bay Area Rapid Transit police chief Kenton Rainey, right, talks about the shooting of a BART officer who was killed by a fellow officer during a news conference Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. Authorities say a San Francisco Bay Area public transit officer who was shot and killed Tuesday by a fellow officer while searching an apartment was looking for a laptop and other stolen items. Rainey declined to disclose any further details of how the shooting of Sgt. Tom Smith occurred. A robbery suspect was in custody. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Law enforcement officers salute as the body of a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer draped with the American flag is loaded into an Alameda County Sheriff’s Coroner vehicle at Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. The officer was shot while serving a probation search warrant at a residence in Dublin, Calif., according to authorities. (AP Photo/The Contra Costa Times, Anda Chu)

This Jan. 16, 2014, booking photo released by Bay Area Rapid Transit shows John Henry Lee. Authorities said a San Francisco Bay Area public transit officer who was shot and killed Tuesday, Jan. 21 by a fellow officer while searching the apartment of Lee, a robbery suspect. The officers were looking for a laptop and other stolen items. (AP Photo/Bay Area Rapid Transit)

Law enforcement officers investigate the accidental fatal shooting of a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer by a fellow BART officer while serving a warrant at an apartment building, according to officials, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Dublin, Calif. (AP Photo/The Contra Costa Times, Dan Honda)

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A veteran San Francisco Bay Area transit police sergeant who was fatally shot by another officer during a search knew the dangers of the profession and once remarked that it was fortunate that no agency officers had been killed on the job, colleagues said Wednesday.

Bay Area Rapid Transit police Sgt. Tom Smith was also described as a respected, sincere, passionate and sometimes opinionated person who always looked out for others.

“Tom knew that law enforcement was incredibly dangerous,” BART Police Lt. Lance Haight said. “I do remember him once commenting that BART had never had an officer die in the line of duty and how fortunate that had never taken place.”

An emotional BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey said the department was in shock over Tuesday’s death of Smith, a 23-year veteran and the first BART officer killed in the line of duty in its 42-year history.

“We’re numb. Please give us some time to grieve,” Rainey told reporters at a news conference in Oakland.

Smith was shot while authorities searched an apartment in Dublin for a smartphone, laptop bag and related items stolen during a recent armed holdup at a train station in Oakland. Police believe the suspect — identified as John Henry Lee, 20 — committed several robberies on BART property.

BART Police said in a statement Wednesday that the San Leandro Police Department arrested Lee on Jan. 16 after an automobile burglary and subsequent chase, which ended when the suspect lost control of his vehicle and collided with a tree. The previous morning, Lee allegedly stole a number of items at gunpoint while in the Fruitvale Station parking garage.

Rainey declined to disclose any further details about how Smith was shot, deferring those questions to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the shooting.

Authorities were trying to determine whether an officer’s weapon discharged accidentally, or if Smith was mistaken for someone else, Alameda County sheriff’s Sgt. J.D. Nelson said. Either way, it was an accident, he added.

Rainey said seven BART officers and a sheriff’s deputy were at the scene when the shooting occurred. Five of the BART officers were detectives in plainclothes, including Smith, and the officers knew a suspect already was in custody, he said, noting the officers were following agency policies and training.

Rainey declined to name the officer who shot Smith but said he was “extremely upset.”

“We want to give him and his family a chance to come to grips with what’s going on and what’s happening,” he said.

Wearing bulletproof vests, the officers began the search by knocking twice on the door of the apartment, Nelson said. The knocks went unanswered, but the door was unlocked, so four BART officers— including Smith— stepped inside with their guns drawn, Nelson added.

“If your door is unlocked, it usually means that somebody’s there, so I’m sure that was in their mind that somebody was in the apartment at the time,” he said.

Nelson declined to elaborate on the shooting but said an officer fired at least one shot.

Rainey said it was common for BART officers to do searches as part of follow-up investigations to recover stolen property.

“I’m very confident in the training that our personnel have received to make sure they’re prepared to deal with these types of encounters and situations,” Rainey said. “Because you never know what’s on the other side of the door.”

Smith, 42, of San Ramon was in charge of the BART police detective unit. He is survived by his wife, also a BART officer, a 6-year-old daughter and two brothers who are also in law enforcement in the San Francisco Bay Area, Rainey

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