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BART police mourn officer killed in accidental shooting by partner

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OAKLAND — A day after the first Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer was killed in the line of duty in the agency's 42-year history — gunned down accidentally by a fellow officer — the department struggled to come to terms with the loss of Det. Sgt. Tommy Smith.

"We're in shock, disbelief, we're numb, we're grieving," BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey told reporters at BART's Oakland headquarters, describing the 23-year veteran who headed the detective unit as "very supportive of his personnel, just a really really happy guy, a family man."

Smith, 42, is survived by his wife, Kellie, a BART police officer who heads the department's K-9 unit, and their 6-year-old daughter. Rainey said he had also met with Smith's mother and two brothers, both in local law enforcement, at the Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, where he thanked the medical staff for "everything they did to try to save Tommy's life."

"Tommy was a great law enforcement officer but an even better son, brother, husband, father and friend," said Rainey, who choked back tears. "He touched many lives."

Investigators provided few details of what took place inside the Dublin apartment where Smith and his team were conducting a probation search Tuesday afternoon.

Rainey said Smith was in plainclothes, accompanied by four other plainclothes detectives, two uniformed BART officers and a uniformed Alameda County Sheriff's deputy.

The apartment belonged to 20-year-old John Henry Lee, who had been taken into custody at 2 a.m. last Thursday after San Leandro police interrupted him during an apparent auto burglary.

According to BART officials, Lee was also a suspect in other crimes on BART property the previous morning — an auto burglary at the Hayward station followed by an armed robbery at the Fruitvale station parking garage.

He was being held in the Santa Rita Jail when officers went to his home to search for property stolen in the robbery. Since he is on probation, police did not need a warrant. He has been charged with second-degree robbery and briefly appeared in Alameda County Superior Court on Wednesday morning.

Officers knew Lee wasn't home, said Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt. J.D. Nelson, spokesman of the department leading the investigation into the shooting, but they found the apartment door unlocked. That may have led officers to believe that someone was inside and to draw their guns before entering.

While he would not comment on specifics, Rainey said probation searches are routine. BART officers "are supposed to practice good officer safety in accordance with their training," he said, adding that they receive 40 hours per year of training — more than is required of California law enforcement agencies.

"I am very confident in the training our personnel have received to deal with these kinds of situations because you never know what's on the other side of that door," he added. "Some things are more dangerous than others and going into someone's home is probably one of the most dangerous things we can do."

Rainey declined to identify the BART officer who discharged his weapon, striking Smith, who died at a nearby hospital. But he said the 10-year department veteran was "extremely upset" when Rainey met with him Tuesday night to offer support.

He has been questioned with legal counsel present, in accordance with the public safety officers' bill of rights.

Rainey confirmed that all the officers were wearing bulletproof vests, and said the uniformed BART officers were required to have their lapel cameras on. (Use of the devices is discretionary for detectives and it was not clear if they were wearing them.)

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown and Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris expressed condolences. Flags flew at half-staff. And on a website dedicated to fallen officers, condolences streamed in.

The wife of one fellow officer recounted how Smith had consoled her when her own husband, Officer Shane Coduti, was badly hurt on the job.

"Thank you for your service, and thank you for caring for me when my husband was injured in the line of duty," wrote Marianne Coduti. "I will never forget your kindness on one of the worst nights of my life. My love and prayers to the Smith family and to my own BART family."

lee.romney@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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