The Coast News Group
Not That You Asked

Shooting at transit center raises questions

When the district attorney declined to bring charges last February in the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old Oceanside man by a security guard during a fight at the Vista transit center, there were many questions left unanswered.
We do know that sheriff’s deputies are reported at the time to have said the guard fired twice on the night of Sept. 11, 2009, one bullet glancing off his hand. A witness, the victim’s girlfriend, said that the guard hurled insults at her relating to her weight.
At the district attorney’s office, there was no elaboration on why charges weren’t filed. A spokesman said that’s the “usual” practice when a decision is made not to act. Public records act watchdogs tell me it tilts more than way too far toward windmills to try and pry anything about the incident from the district attorney. Mum has pretty much been the word at the sheriff’s since the shooting, too.
The ubiquitous cameras in and around the transit centers are likely to have caught a lot of it on tape, probably from more than one angle. I’m sure it would be a legal arm and a leg, futile at that, to get a viewing of that footage, too, unless it became evidence in a formal trial.
The premise here is that we have a legitimate interest in how business is conducted at public spaces such as the transit centers in Vista, a key Sprinter stop and depot for a spoke of bus runs. It wouldn’t hurt, either, to get a decent idea of just what behavior would be so out of bounds as to elicit a response involving force from armed security personnel.
If it gets to trial, a civil case filed last May on behalf of the estate of the deceased, Anthony G. Wacker, may yield an answer or two. Might it lead to a strengthening of the screening and training a potential officer must undergo before donning the shield and the uniform of the North County Transit District security force? Would that the incident itself set off such re-examination.
The complaint, filed in Superior Court in Vista, states that the guard, Sam Tavallodi Jr., who is named as a defendant along with the NCTD itself and the security contractor, Heritage Security Services, “ … pressed a firearm against Anthony G. Wacker’s back and threatened to shoot him. Tavallodi then shot Wacker twice in the back, thereby causing his death.”
In the back?
The jockeying in this case continues in January. A case management conference is scheduled for Jan. 7 at the Vista courthouse and the next of a series of hearings on motions a week later.
If there’s anything to poet John Donne’s indelible line that each man’s death diminishes me, I’m asking if we can gain something by Anthony G. Wacker’s death. Are procedures and practices in place that would mitigate, if not prevent, a shooting death under these circumstances for a 21-year-old?

Department of Clarification: In the rush to publication last week, it turned out not to be clear in this column just who wrote the article I drew so heavily on (“What Good Is Wall Street?”) and where it appeared. The author is John Cassidy and it appears in the Nov. 29, 2010, issue of the New Yorker magazine. The Coast News regrets any confusion or frustration this editing glitch may have caused.