Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle
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BART trains were not stopping at the West Oakland station Thursday night for about an hour because a group of protesters blocked the fare gates, transportation officials said.
But Yolanda Banks, the mother of Sahleem Tindle, 28, a man who was shot to death by BART police officer Joseph Mateu last January, said the gathering was part of a remembrance ceremony honoring her son on the anniversary of his death.
She told The Chronicle she didn’t understand why BART officials closed the station during their “peaceful rally,” saying the group of about 150 people moved out of the way for riders walking in and out of the fare gates before officials closed the station.
“We were across the street saying a prayer… and when we walked back (to the station) the gates were closed,” Banks said. “Any person that wanted to get through, we made room for them to get in. We were surprised to see the gates closed.”
BART officials initially announced the station closure due to protesters blocking all fare gates and “police activity” just after 6 p.m. Officials reopened the station just after 7 p.m.
Alicia Trost, a BART spokeswoman, said BART police officers asked the group to move out of the way of the fare gates but they did not comply, prompting the station closure.
“The station was closed because the group was intentionally blocking the fare gates which are the only way in or out of the station,” she said.
The closure caused delays on BART during the evening commute.
Trost said a sergeant and deputy chief with BART police confirmed they asked the group to move out of the way to allow riders to pass, but Banks said police did not make any effort to communicate with the crowd.
Officials momentarily suspended stops at the station for “passenger safety,” according to Cheryl Stalter, a BART spokeswoman.
Social media users challenged BART’s description of the gathering at the West Oakland station as a protest, stating the protesters were in fact family and friends of Tindle, and the cluster of people wasn’t any larger than crowds on normal commute days. Videos posted to social media show the crowd chanting at the fare gates while a line of police officers stand behind the gates.
BART officials responded to some people criticizing their decision to close the station on social media, explaining that they’ve made similar calls to have trains pass through stations during “large events like marches and parades” because there is nowhere for riders to go when fare gates are blocked.
Banks said the group prayed and she shared memories of Tindle, such as when he built a fence for her chickens and ducks on her rural Valley Springs (Calaveras County) land, and how he introduced his two children to his mother’s farm-style living. His 10-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter attended the vigil.
“My thoughts were to speak on his life,” Banks said. “Hate begets hate, but what I despise is how life can be taken tragically and no one is held accountable,”
Yolanda Banks Reed (middle), the mother of Sahleem Tindle – who was killed Jan. 2018 by @SFBART police – prepares for a vigil for her son at #WestOakland BART Station in Oakland, Calif. on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2018. @sfbay pic.twitter.com/a7N7WIPrGP
— Aaron Levy-Wolins (@alevywolins) January 4, 2019
Alameda County prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against Mateu after reviewing his body-worn camera and interviewing witnesses of the fatal shooting.
The office of District Attorney Nancy O’Malley found the officer reasonably believed he was acting in self-defense and in the defense of others when he shot Tindle in the back three times when Tindle and another man struggled over a handgun during a violent confrontation near the West Oakland BART station.
A man wounded by one of two shots fired by the handgun the pair were struggling with told investigators that he saw Tindle fire the weapon, but criminalists did not find gunshot residue on Tindle’s hands, according to prosecutors.
Mateu had been a 15-year veteran of the force at the time of the fatal shooting.
We are now reopening West Oakland station. It had been closed because the entry and exits were blocked by protestors. We are sorry for the inconvenience.
— SFBART (@SFBART) January 4, 2019
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/west-oakland-bart-protest-trains-not-stop-tindle-13507429.php.