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Felony charges dropped in BART altercation

on November 24, 2009

Felony charges were dropped against Michael Joseph Gibson of San Leandro in Alameda County Superior Court on Tuesday, but he will face three misdemeanor counts, including disturbing the peace, public drunkenness, and indecent exposure, in connection with an altercation with a BART police officer at the West Oakland BART station Saturday evening.

A video shot on a mobile device aboard the Pittsburgh-Bay Point-bound train and posted to YouTube shows Gibson yelling at his fellow passengers before being grabbed by a BART police officer and hauled onto the platform and into a glass window. The impact shattered the glass, resulting in cuts on the face and arms of both people involved.  The BART police officer has been placed on “industrial” leave to recover from his injuries and BART has announced it is opening a use-of-force investigation into the incident.

If convicted on all misdemeanor counts, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Ann Kenfield estimated Gibson, 37, could face a year or more in prison.

Citing Gibson’s record of misdemeanor arrests and multiple failures to appear in court, Kenfield argued before Commissioner Karen Rodrigue that Gibson’s bail should remain at $51,000. Gibson’s defense attorney, John Burris, successfully argued that bail be set at $5,000. Burris is also representing the family of Oscar Grant in a civil suit against Johannes Mehserle, the ex-BART police officer who shot and killed Grant at the Fruitvale BART station on January 1.

Outside the court after the charges were filed, Burris said the district attorney’s decision to drop the felony charges was “appropriate” and that greater attention should be paid to the actions of BART police. “Certainly from our point of view, and from my interest in the case, clearly it matters that no charges were filed related to his conduct toward the police,” said Burris.

Though Gibson’s arraignment was originally set for 2 p.m. today, Judge Trina Thompson-Stanley did not receive charges from the District Attorney’s Office until 3:30, when she learned that the two felony charges of obstruction and resisting an officer and battery on a police officer with injury would be dropped. Proceedings shifted to misdemeanor court under Commissioner Rodrigue.

Silvia Hawkins, Gibson’s aunt, said she was “very satisfied” with the outcome in court today but maintained that the BART police officer used excessive force in arresting her nephew. “I don’t dispute that policemen have to arrest people when they are drunk and disorderly,” she said. “That’s what they should have done.”

Hawkins questioned the officer’s conduct in pushing Gibson into the window in the first place, wondering aloud if the case would have drawn attention had the glass not shattered. “Did that policeman also assume, when he jammed Michael into that wall, that the glass was not going to break?” she said.

“This was an overreaction by the police officer,” said Burris. “If you look at the tape, at no point in time did Mr. Gibson strike or resist the police officer.”

BART chief spokesman Linton Johnson said the use-of-force investigation into the police officer is ongoing and declined to comment on the officer’s actions on November 21st.

As to the felony charges against Gibson being dropped, Johnson said that court actions were the district attorney’s purview.  “The district attorney is responsible for filing charges and law enforcement is responsible for law enforcement,” he said. “We defer to their expertise in the matter.”

Burris said the events at the West Oakland BART station may help Gibson get the help he needs. “Mr. Gibson has his own personal demons, and hopefully this case will allow us to draw attention to those demons,” Burris said. “Hopefully the better part of this case will draw some positive good for him in the long run.”

Gibson’s pretrial hearing is set for 9 a.m. December 17 at the Wiley W. Manual Courthouse in downtown Oakland.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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