BART board votes to continue legal efforts against protestors

Board also bans electronic cigarettes in station areas

A divided BART Board of Directors asked Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley Thursday to continue prosecuting 14 protesters who shut down the West Oakland BART station for several hours the day after Thanksgiving but asked her not to seek restitution from them.

The board's 5-4 vote came at the end of an unruly two-hour meeting at which 34 of 35 speakers who addressed the board asked it to urge O'Malley to dismiss the charges against the so-called "Black Friday 14."

The protesters chained themselves to two trains at the West Oakland station during the Nov. 28 action, shutting down BART service for more than three hours.

The protest was one of many in the Bay Area and across the nation responding to several highly publicized incidents last year in which white police officers killed unarmed black men and boys and weren't charged for their actions.

BART directors Rebecca Saltzman and Tom Radulovich urged the board to ask the District Attorney's Office to drop both the misdemeanor charge against the 14 protesters of trespassing on railroad property and a request for up to $5,000 each in restitution, for a total of $70,000.

But the board majority, acting after a 10-minute recess was called because protesters continuously interrupted board members who were trying to speak, voted instead to approve a substitute motion authored by Joel Keller and seconded by Nick Josefowitz that asks prosecutors to retain the charges but drop the restitution demand.

Saltzman, Radulovich, Board President Thomas Blalock and Zakhary Mallett voted against the substitute motion.

Following an outcry after BART sought restitution for the protest,

BART general manager Grace Crunican said last month that she was interested in community service or restorative justice programs as an alternative to restitution and said she spoke to O'Malley about that possibility.

Radulovich said Thursday that, "BART management's overreaction has set us back" in efforts to regain the public's trust following the Jan. 1, 2009 fatal shooting of unarmed black passenger Oscar Grant III by white transit district officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale station in Oakland.

BART directors also voted unanimously Thursday to give final approval to an ordinance that allows the transit agency to ban electronic cigarettes on its trains and in its stations.

The American Lung Association and others backed the measure,

saying it's important to protect the health of riders from secondhand vapors and particle pollution from electronic cigarettes.

Smoking an e-cigarette, known colloquially as vaping, previously

wasn't regulated at BART.

BART directors have been getting many complaints from riders about secondhand smoke from e-cigarettes, BART spokesman Taylor Huckaby said.

BART officials said that because there are no state and federal

guidelines to restrict the smoking of e-cigarettes, the transit agency's only immediate option is to enact an ordinance allowing the agency to enforce a restriction.

According to a BART staff memo, e-cigarettes were first developed in China in 2004 with the aim of efficiently delivering nicotine to a user without the harmful effects of inhaling smoke.

E-cigarettes heat a liquid to produce vapors than can carry

nicotine to the user, along with a variety of flavored substances. Sales of the devices are booming as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes.

But the BART staff memo said that just as with the use of

traditional tobacco cigarettes, there is concern about potential harm from second-hand exposure to the vapor delivered by e-cigarettes.

BART officials said transit agencies in California have had varied

responses to e-cigarettes, with some agencies banning them but other agencies choosing not to action now and instead wait for state or federal guidelines.

Huckaby said BART's ordinance takes effect immediately but the

agency won't begin enforcing it right away.

— Bay City News Service

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