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DA decides fatal January BART police shooting self defense

The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office said Tuesday that it won’t file criminal charges against a BART police officer who fatally shot a 28-year-old man near the West Oakland BART station in January because the officer acted in what he reasonably believed to be self-defense.

Officer Joseph Mateu fatally shot Sahleem Tindle three times in the back while Tindle allegedly struggled over control of a gun with another man in the 1400 block of Seventh Street across the street from the West Oakland station at about 4:40 p.m. on Jan. 3.

The majority of the witnesses in the District Attorney’s 48-page report on the shooting said they believed Tindle was the aggressor in the fight with the other man, who isn’t named in the report and only is listed as Witness 1.

The report says Tindle, who had recently moved from San Francisco to West Oakland, was walking with his fiancee, their two young children and his fiancee’s sister toward the West Oakland BART station intending to travel on BART to San Francisco.

Witness 1 told investigators that the confrontation began after he spotted Tindle carrying a bag containing Air Jordan shoes that Witness 1 had inadvertently left on the sidewalk while he stopped to smoke a cigarette.

The man said Tindle initially denied having the shoes but eventually handed them over and he thought the interaction was over but Tindle then pulled a gun on him, according to the report.

The District Attorney says Tindle and the other man eventually separated but Tindle’s fiancee egged him on and told him to “pop” the other man and “knock him out.”

The report says the other man “grabbed” Tindle a few minutes later and the two men began struggling in front of a barbershop at the corner of Seventh and Chester streets and during the struggle Tindle pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and two shots were fired.

One of the shots went through a window at the barbershop, although no one there was hit, but the other shot caused a wound to Witness 1’s leg, according to the report.

Mateu was inside the West Oakland station at the time of the initial shooting and raced across the street to the scene, where he saw Tindle holding a gun in his left hand, the report says.

Mateu repeatedly yelled at Tindle and the other man, who were struggling for control of the gun, to show their hands but they didn’t comply, according to the report.

At some point Mateu could no longer see the gun and he told investigators that he feared Tindle might have the gun in his right hand and could have been pointing the gun at the other man, the report says.

Mateu also said he feared that if Tindle stood up “he could have easily turned to shoot Witness 1” or turned around to shoot him, according to the report.

Mateu then fired “three rapid shots into Mr. Tindle’s back,” the report says.

Mateu told investigators that after he shot Tindle he saw the gun fall out of Tindle’s right hand and after Tindle fell to the ground he raised his hands up.

Mateu said he fired because he “was afraid” for himself, the life of Witness 1 and the lives of the people in the barbershop and the other people in the area, according to the report.

Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, who filed a civil rights lawsuit against Mateu and BART on behalf of Tindle’s family in federal court last month, said he disagrees with the report’s conclusions and he thinks Mateu should have been charged with manslaughter, if not murder.

Burris said Mateu had no justification for shooting Tindle because the officer “did not know who had the gun and what was being done with the gun.”

Burris said Mateu “did not see a gun in Sahleem’s hand when he shot him” and simply made an assumption that Tindle would shoot.

Burris said Mateu’s decision to shoot Tindle was “a miscarriage of justice and criminal.”

Joining Burris at a news conference at his office, Tindle’s mother Yolanda Banks Reed alleged that Mateu “murdered” her son and said she’s “devastated” by the District Attorney’s decision not to file charges against Mateu.

Banks Reed said she believes police officers “get immunity to shoot first and ask questions later.”

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.

BART said in a statement that it “continues to extend its sympathies to the family of Sahleem Tindle” but declined to comment further, citing the pending litigation.

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