By Joaquin Palomino 11/18/16
BART has settled a federal lawsuit over the tragic death of an on-duty detective who was fatally shot by a fellow transit agency officer nearly three years ago, attorneys said Friday.
The $3.1 million settlement will be paid to the family of Detective Sgt. Thomas “Tommy” Smith, who was accidentally shot and killed by BART Officer Michael Maes while the two searched a robbery suspect’s apartment in Dublin on Jan. 21, 2014.
Smith and Maes were among a group of BART officers who went to the ground-floor apartment on Dougherty Road to conduct a probation search in hopes of recovering stolen property. The apartment belonged to 20-year-old John Henry Lee, a robbery suspect who was already in custody, having been arrested five days earlier.
The officers hadn’t studied the circular floor plan of the apartment, and when they encountered each other in a back room, Maes shot Smith after mistaking him for an armed suspect. Maes has since retired, according to BART officials.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to … members of the Smith family,” BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey said in a statement. “The BART PD continues to mourn the loss of Tommy. He will not be forgotten as we strive to ensure BART PD is a 21st century police department.”
The friendly-fire death raised questions about why BART police had sent a group of detectives and officers into the apartment rather than a SWAT team. The federal suit also alleged Smith was denied specialized training on searching buildings, despite requesting it from his supervisor.
“When it comes to a situation where an officer is requesting the very training that ultimately led to this tragic incident, there’s a problem with it, and that needs to be rectified,” attorney Joseph Lucia told The Chronicle shortly after filing the lawsuit in 2015.
The settlement was reached without a finding of fault or an admission of liability, attorneys said, but it revised BART policies so that when officers ask their direct supervisors for remedial training on any basic law enforcement practice, it must be provided.
Smith’s wife, former BART Officer Kellie Smith, said she hoped the settlement would prevent similar incidents in the future.
“I am very hopeful that these policy changes will avoid another tragedy like this from happening in the future,” she said. “I wish more than anything that none of my fellow officers’ families from the BART PD will ever have to suffer through what our family has over the past three years.”