Published

Story Updates

    5/19/11
  • Mehserle Shooting of Oscar Grant Considered a Non-Violent Offense

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    First published by New American Media a partner in our effort to cover the Mehserle trial in Los Angeles.

    LOS ANGELES -- Because California penal code does not classify involuntary manslaughter as a “violent” or “serious” offense, Johannes Mehserle, the convicted killer of Oscar Grant, could be released as early as mid-June of this year, after serving less than one year behind bars.

    But while the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) lists June 1 as the date for a court hearing to schedule Mehserle’s release, that hearing may or may not happen, depending on who you talk to.

    According to Luis Patino, a communications consultant for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the purpose of the June 1 hearing is to review Mehserle’s “…sentencing credits, and determine whether or not his release date is correct. At this point, the release date is projected to be the middle of June.”

    The LASD has jurisdiction over the Men's Central Jail where Mehserle has been held since July 8, 2010, after a jury found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Grant, who was shot by Mehserle while lying face-down on an Oakland Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) platform on New Year’s Eve of 2009. Mehserle claimed to have mistaken his service weapon for a taser-gun.

    According to the sheriff’s website, Mehserle’s hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. before Judge Robert Perry. However, Connie Fernandes, an assistant to Mehserle’s defense attorney Michael Rains, stated that the hearing was “not going to happen.”

    Further details were not available from Rains’ office as of press time.

    An inquiry was made about the discrepancy with the court clerk. However, that call was not returned by press time.

    Per the California Penal Code, Section 4019, which was amended and approved by former Governor Schwarzenegger in October 2009, “certain prisoners shall earn one day of credit for every one day served either in the state prison or in a local facility prior to delivery to the state prison.”

    The “certain prisoners” are those convicted of non-violent felonies or those convicted of felonies that are not considered to be serious.

    Section 667.5c of the California Penal Code lists those felonies that are considered to be violent and Section 1192.7c lists those considered to be serious. Involuntary manslaughter, the crime that Mehserle was convicted of, is not listed among them.

    Patino says that involuntary manslaughter is indeed considered to be a non-violent offense but that other factors weigh in on the calculation of a state prisoner’s sentence: “The type of crime committed, the classification of the crime, the time it is committed, the laws in effect at that time, interpretation of the law, etc.,” said Patino.

    Due to the classification of being a non-violent felon, Mehserle could walk free in the next few weeks after serving less than one calendar year of his prison sentence.

    In Oakland and in Los Angeles, where Mehserle’s trial took place and he is currently being held, reaction to the news of Mehserle’s classification was met with shock and anger among activists and observers of the case.

    “I don’t know how much more violent you can get than killing someone!” said Tiah Starr, an organizer with the October 22nd Coalition against Police Brutality, one of the founding organizations of the Los Angeles Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant.

    “It’s insane that he only did a year in jail and Oscar Grant is dead ... it just makes no sense to me,” said Starr.

    Sheilagh Polk, a former Los Angeles resident who moved to Oakland four years ago, felt that the charge of involuntary manslaughter never should have been an option. “Mehserle … should have been convicted of second degree murder; he pulled out his gun, cocked it, pulled the trigger and executed an unarmed, young black man with full confidence that he would get away with it. And he did,” she said.

    Davey D, a journalist and 20-year resident of the Bay Area, felt that the non-violent designation was just one more indicator of the justice system’s failure to work for African Americans. “At the end of the day, this is just a repudiation of black life,” he said. “That’s what this all boils down to – the verdict, the picking of the jury, the sentencing – this is all a refusal to acknowledge and see black life as something that is valuable.”

    Whenever the sentencing review hearing is held, Patino says, as a matter of policy the CDCR will not release the specific date and time of Mehserle’s release. “It’s for the safety of the inmate, our employees, and many times, the public,” he said.

    Posted by Spot. Us on 05/19/11
  • 5/12/11
  • Johannes Mehserle Could Be Out of Jail In June

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    This is an update from our reporter Thandisizwe Chimurenga. It was written for New Amerian Media.

    LOS ANGELES - Rumors have swirled recently over whether Johannes Mehserle, the former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer convicted last summer of involuntary manslaughter in the death of an unarmed Oscar Grant, had already been released from prison. Those rumors have turned out to be false. Mehserle, however, may walk out of prison some time in June.

    Click here to read the full story.

    Posted by Spot. Us on 05/12/11
  • 7/13/10
  • Sentencing for convicted killer Johannes Mehserle pushed back to later this year.

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    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat, The Bay Citizen and The Campanil.

    The following report is from Thandisizwe Chimerenga.

    Sentencing for convicted killer Johannes Mehserle has been pushed back to later this year and his attorney says he will argue for a reduction in sentence when that time comes.

    Mehserle is the former Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer convicted July 8 of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of 22-year old Oscar Grant on an Oakland rail platform Jan. 1, 2009. The trial was moved to Los Angeles County Superior court from Alameda County last fall due to extensive pre-trial publicity and concerns about fairness.

    Judge Robert Perry had set an August 6 date for Mehserle’s sentencing however he granted Michael Rains, Mehserle’s defense attorney, a postponement in order to prepare.  Alan Parachini Public Information officer for the Los Angeles Superior Court, says the sentencing may take place in October or possibly even November but no exact date has yet been determined.

    Rains, speaking to the media on July 9, said he was disappointed but not overly surprised that Mehserle had been found guilty and felt that the verdict reached in the case was inconsistent.

    According to the Oakland Tribune, Rains said his argument to Judge Perry will be “ … there was no negligence in the case," and that Perry should dismiss the jury's finding that Mehserle was guilty of using a gun in the commission in a crime.

    “This is a typical defense move; he’s basically doing a motion for a new trial, in which he’s saying that the jury came up with an incorrect verdict,” said Nana Gyamfi, a Los Angeles-based criminal defense attorney.

    “He will possibly argue to the judge that the finding of criminal negligence is inconsistent with the finding of intent to use a firearm, meaning, ‘involuntary manslaughter’ is a finding that’s just above ‘it was a mistake.’  If someone is intending to use a firearm under the circumstances that Mehserle did, that’s not ‘just above mistake.’”

    In spite of this however, Gyamfi says the verdict and the finding are indeed consistent.

    “It’s like when someone drives drunk and kills someone.  That person intended to drink, and they intended to drive.  But they did not intend to kill someone.”

    But Mehserle was not a drunk driver; he was a law enforcement officer with the power to use deadly force and he carried a lethal weapon.

    Mehserle released a letter of apology to the public through his lawyer on July 4, four days before the jury returned their verdict, expressing remorse for killing Grant.  The letter, available on the web, states in part, I know a daughter has lost a father and a mother has lost a son. It saddens me knowing that my actions cost Mr. Grant his life, no words express how truly sorry I am.”

    Cephus “Bobby” Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant, felt that the letter was insincere.  Speaking at a press conference in Oakland two days after the verdict he said, “…this letter that was not addressed to Wanda Johnson, Sophina Mesa (fiancée of Oscar Grant) or Tatinna, Oscar’s daughter, or even to us as a family … this letter, let’s be clear, was not addressed to us it was addressed to the public … .   This is a ploy … just like he faked a cry on the stand, he’s sending out a fake letter to the public … its garbage.”

    Mehserle could possibly face a maximum of 14 years in state prison.  If the gun charge were dismissed the maximum amount of time he could receive would be reduced to just four years. 

    Without the gun enhancement charge it is also possible that Mehserle could receive probation.

    Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant, expressed her fears via e-mail.  “I figured they would try to push it back as far as they can in order to try to say time served.” The apology letter I believe was given to the jury to help them determine the verdict. The whole system is unjust.”

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 07/13/10
  • 7/9/10
  • Live Blogging - Reaction and Aftermath of Mehserle Verdict

    Photos and video from David Cohn Another video from David Cohn - edited by Oakland Local Los Angeles

    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat, The Bay Citizen and The Campanil.

    The verdict of involunatary manslaughter is in. This will be a live bloging post that will be updated throughout the day with links to the partnering organizations listed above and their content. We will continue to update this post throughout the afternoon and evening.

    Oakland Local's ongoing live coverage:

    9:50 p.m.: Law enforcement prepares to thow tear gas into the crowds.
    9:12 p.m.:
    Despite the unrest downtown, other parts of Oakland - near Lake Merritt and the Fruitvale BART station - there are no reports of crowds or violence, according to OL staffers on the scene.

    Bay Citizen's ongoing coverage includes fantastic stories like: Anger follows Mehserle verdict.

    California Beat's ongoing live coverage:
    Last update:

    23:25 PDT Mostly mopup going on now, though there are still isolated reports of looting going on in Oakland.

    That’s it for this live blog. Look out for a full story on the reaction to the verdict, the protests, and the rioting later.

    Police car injures woman in Oakland protest - The Bay Citizen.

    Multimedia gallery: Oakland responds - Oakland Local, updated regularly.

    Downtown Oakland, near 14th & Broadway, about 4:30 pm, just
after the Mescherle verdict was announced. Photo by Marv Nettles

    (Photo from Oakland Local)

    Protestors become restless - Oakland Local.

    Oakland Local is using CoverItLive to host a conversation and share its live coverage.

    From California Beat in Los Angeles

    A crowd of about 100 people has gathered in south Los Angeles to voice their opinions on the Mehserle verdict.

    Oscar Grant Sr., the shooting victim’s grandfather, asks people not to “dishonor” Grant’s memory through violence. He says there are “good cops and bad cops.”

    Also from Los Angeles Twitter.com/OscarGrantTrial photos from Leimert Park

    Photos from The Bay Citizen such as the below.

    Title #3

    A prayer group on 14th and Broadway. Moments after the verdict was announced. Posted at 5:37 p.m. Image by Kate McLean.   From California Beat:

    6:05 PDT: BART reports that the City Center entrance to the 12th Street station in Downtown Oakland has been closed. Other entrances to the station are still open.

    Our reporter says a small number of people have gathered at Youth Uprising to speak out on the verdict.

    A photo from the small gathering at 73rd and MacArthur in Los Angeles:
      The verdict could mean up to 14 years in jail for Merhselre according to The Bay Citizen. Confirmed by Oakland Local.

    16:45 PDT: Many downtown businesses have closed for the day, and our reporters say Downtown Oakland is deserted.


    Still, police are staging downtown in the event of trouble. This photo shows police units staging at 11th and Jefferson in downtown Oakland.

    Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Grant’s family and attorney John Burris say they are “extremely disappointed” with the verdict, but Burris tells the media that it’s better than no verdict at all.

     

    Posted by Spot. Us on 07/09/10
  • 7/8/10
  • Photos of Downtown Oakland before the Verdict

    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat, The Bay Citizen and The Campanil.

    Spot.Us is in downtown Oakland with our friends from Oakland Local and others awaiting the verdict from the Mehserle trial (the jury reached a quick verdict). The photo slideshow above is of local Oakland shop owners bordering up their windows courtesy of Oakland Local.

    Indeed as I got off the 12th street Bart station heading to our base of operations I saw people bordering up their shops, a lot of "closed" signs and individuals leaving downtown (some even running).

    We will try to keep our updates limited and pertinent. You should also follow our various content partners such as California Beat, Oakland Local, The Bay Citizen, KALW (where our LA reporter will do a radio interview later) and New American Media and Thandisize's Twitter.com/OscarGrantTrial from Los Angeles.

    • UPDATE: At 4:10pm the verdict has come back as involuntary manslaughter.
    Posted by Spot. Us on 07/08/10
  • 7/7/10
  • A Collection of Independent Coverage of the Johannes Mehserle Trial

    Oscar Grant supportor threatened with arrest for passing out flyers about BART shooting. In the words of Thandisizwe Chimurenga: "Such an astute and disciplined soldier ... i'm proud to know this brotha!" You can follow Thandisizwe's Tweets from the courthouse: Twitter.com/OscarGrantTrial - We are bias here at Spot.Us. but we believe her tweets have been fantastic, providing up to date news and insight throughout the trial.

     

    The latest news from California Beat: A Los Angeles jury restarted deliberations in the murder trial of former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle Wednesday morning, but ended discussions at 11:45 a.m. because of a juror’s afternoon doctor’s appointment.

     

    Deliberations struck a brief hiatus Tuesday when one of the jurors fell ill, canceling what was to be the first full day of reviewing evidence in the murder trial.

     

    Wednesday morning, a juror who had a planned vacation left the panel, requiring the court to select one of three remaining alternates to decide the fate of the former officer. The replacement requires the jury to restart deliberations from the beginning.

    The panel now consists of eight women and four men, none of whom are African Americans.

    The jury is responsible for determining the fate of Mehserle, who killed unarmed train passenger Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale BART station on January 1, 2009.

     

    The Bay Citizen has a very cool multimedia presentation interviewing locals from across the Bay Area as they weigh in on the Mehserle trial and what it means. They also have a report that Richmond police don't believe the verdict will affect them.

     

     The Mehserle Verdict: How you can contribute to OL's coverage

    We invite you to participate in the coverage in the following ways:
    Send tips on things we should be covering to editor@oaklandlocal.com.

    Send us pieces you write that you want to share: editor@oaklandlocal.com. We will publish under a handle, but we need your real name and an identifiable email address before we can post--but we don't need to share those.

    Send us links to things YOU publish to point or embed to: editor@oaklandlocal.com

    Photo pool: If you are a photographer and want to share your photos with OL, here's how:

    --Post to your flickr account and tag your photos Oaklandlocal ; we will watch the stream and grab them.

    --Email photos to editor@oaklandlocal.com with contact information, credit attribution, etc.

    All materials published remain the property of their creators, we retain no rights, they're yours.

     

     

    From SF Appeal: In "Willie's World," BART Cops Don't Need Guns; BART Disagrees


    "As the Bay Area awaits the verdict of the Johannes Mehserle trial with bated breath and tensions over the possibility of a post-trial riot in Oakland, everyone from office workers standing by the water cooler to media moguls and politicians are discussing the potential outcome of the case.

    Included in this chatter is former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who is putting in his two cents (as he so often does) via his weekly column in the San Francisco Chronicle.
    In this week's edition of "Willie's World," Brown predicts that Meheserle will receive a sentence of involuntary manslaughter, then goes on to question the necessity of BART officers carrying guns in the first place, since they are not "real police officers out on patrol."
    "They are transit cops. They aren't going to be in a shootout with anybody. Not on a BART platform, or in a parking lot or in a BART car. Too many people could get hurt if there was a real shootout," Brown said.
    In an e-mail to the SF Appeal, BART's Chief Communications Officer Linton Johnson disputed Mayor Brown's comments, arguing that BART officers are no different from the SFPD's boys in blue."

     

     


    From The Oakbook: Op-Ed: The Many Tragedies of the Oscar Grant Killing

    Johannes Mehserle’s trial is drawing to a close in downtown Los Angeles.  The prosecution rested its case after calling some 26 witnesses.  Despite the parade of witnesses, the prosecution has not made a strong case for 1st degree murder.  Yes, it is clear that Oscar Grant was killed without provocation.  It appears that he did absolutely nothing to justify his murder.  That part of the case is not in dispute.

    However, the prosecutor has to prove 1st degree murder. That will not be easy. In California, you not only have to prove that a physical act caused a death, but that the person’s mental state was the cause of the death. That’s what’s known as malice aforethought.  Basically, that means that the prosecutor must show that the defendant unlawfully intended to kill, or that he intentionally committed an act to kill, or that the probable consequences of the act were dangerous to human life. That is a huge hurdle to overcome.
     

     

    Posted by Spot. Us on 07/07/10
  • 7/6/10
  • Preparing for a Verdict - a Collection of Independent Coverage of the Oscar Grant Trial

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    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat, The Bay Citizen and The Campanil.

    Our partnering organizations have been producing all kinds of content through Friday and the weekend. Add it all up and it gives a robust and unique perspective of the Johannes Mehserle trial which is expected to reach a verdict soon. Below is a smattering of coverage from our content partners including Oakland Local and California Beat.

    On Wednesday's decision to allow manslaughter: Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry ruled against key defense motions today, deciding to allow the jury in the murder trial of Johannes Mehserle, the former BART Police officer who shot and killed Oscar Grant on January 1, 2009, to consider voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges during its deliberations. Republished by The Bay Citizen

     
    Published 7/2 Closing statement: A Los Angeles jury will now consider whether former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot and killed unarmed passenger Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009 at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, is guilty of murder, manslaughter, or no crime at all. Mehserle’s defense attorney Michael Rains finished his closing argument Friday morning, asking jurors to send a “reverberating, resonating and resounding verdict” of not guilty.
     
    From California Beat: Published 7/1 Closing statements expected Friday: The prosecution in the murder trial of Johannes Mehserle, the former BART Police officer who shot and killed unarmed passenger Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009, urged a Los Angeles jury to convict Mehserle of second-degree murder during its closing argument today. But the defense said the prosecution had not proven that Mehserle intended to shoot Grant beyond a reasonable doubt. “This was an accident, folks. Clear and simple,” Mehserle’s defense attorney Michael Rains said.
     
    From Oakland Local: Verdict expected Tuesday:

    Both David Stein, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney, and Defense Attorney Michael Rains strongly admonished the jury in People v. Johannes Mehserle to bring back verdicts on Friday. For Stein, it was a verdict of guilty of second-degree murder; for Rains, it was “Not guilty, not guilty, not guilty!”

    After closing arguments and a rebuttal by Stein, each juror received a copy of the 13 pages of instructions on the law that applies to the case.

    A video monitor was set up in the jury room and deliberations began right after lunch.

    Mehserle, a former Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer, is accused of murder in the shooting death of Oscar Grant, a 22-year old Hayward man who was shot in the back as he lay prone and unarmed on a Fruitvale rail platform on Jan. 1, 2009.

    Stein began his closing argument the way he began his opening argument - he told the jurors that the motto “To Protect and To Serve” stands for duty and professionalism and that police officers often run to situations that ordinary citizens run away from. “This is why we hold them in such high regard,” he said.

    And then he reminded the jurors of the point he made on the opening day of the trial. 

    “What happens when an officer believes they have the right to abuse someone; the desire to punish people, to belittle people? I told you then and I’ll tell you now,” he said, “It will always result in chaos, distrust and disorder.”

    Taking the jurors through the evidence and why he believed it amounted to second-degree murder, Stein told them they must ask themselves three questions: Did Grant resist arrest just prior to being shot; did the defendant honestly believe Grant was going for a gun; and did the defendant intend to pull his gun?

    A still from one of the many videos in the case appeared on a screen. It showed Grant seconds after Mehserle’s bullet entered into his back, laying on his stomach with both his hands behind his back. 

    “It can never be lawful to shoot an unarmed man when he is being detained and in the process of putting his hands behind his back,” said Stein. “That can never be lawful.”

    The bulk of Stein’s closing argument consisted of how showing the jurors how the evidence either fit or could fit the requirements for second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.


    Oakland prepares for verdict': As a Los Angeles County jury begins to deliberate the fate of former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle, unprecedented steps are being taken to avert violence in the city where the entire saga began.

    All day Thursday, business owners throughout Oakland prepared for a potentially violent response to what could be an unpopular verdict in the murder trial.

    In Oakland’s Fruitvale District, crews placed plywood over glass windows at Fruitvale BART station: the location where Mehserle shot Oscar Grant, an unarmed train passenger, on January 1, 2009.

    Mehserle, 28, is white; shooting victim Grant was black.

    Oakland Auto Body boards up its windows in preparation for protests if an unpopular verdict is reached in Los Angeles. (CALIFORNIA BEAT PHOTO)

    At the gigantic Fruitvale Village development adjacent to the station, workmen were drilling screws into sheets of plywood at the De Colores Childcare Development Center.

    The Cesar Chavez branch library located nearby Fruitvale BART Station announced it will be closed today, July 2 due to safety concerns.

    On International Blvd., storefront windows were being covered at the T-Mobile store, and at a neighboring record shop.

    Business owners said they weren’t taking any risks.

    “It’s a shame we have to do this,” said Mike McDonnell, as he hammered nails to pieces of wood covering windows at Oakland Auto Body at 11th and Madison Sts. “We’re a family owned business. We’ve been in Oakland for over 50 years. I’d never thought we’d have to do this.”

    Oakland Local's coverage of how the Bay Area is preparing for the verdict.

    Posted by Spot. Us on 07/06/10
  • 6/30/10
  • Tears Flow as Defense Rests in Mehserle Trial

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    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat, The Bay Citizen and The Campanil.

    Today's update has three posts.

    Tears Flow as Defense Rests in Mehserle Trial

    By Thandizwe Chumurenga at Oakland Local.

    After 13 days of testimony, the defense rested Tuesday in People v. Johannes Mehserle with the calling of Dr. Thomas Rogers to the stand. A 31-year forensic pathologist and a physician of 40 years, Rogers was wheeled into the courtroom due to a recent surgery on his foot.
       
    Defense attorney Michael Rains has argued that Oscar Grant, the 22-year old Hayward man shot and killed by his client, was actively resisting Mehserle’s attempts to handcuff him. Specifically, Rains says that Grant was moving, his left shoulder coming up off the Fruitvale platform floor, at the time he was shot in the back. 

    READ MORE.

    Another emotional day in courtroom as sides finish presenting evidence

    By Tashina Manyak published at California Beat

    Both sides finished presenting evidence Tuesday during a sometimes emotional day of testimony in the murder trial of former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who fatally shot unarmed passenger Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009.

    A forensic pathologist with the Alameda County Coroner’s Office was the final witness for the defense. Thomas Rogers, who performed the autopsy on Grant’s body, described in graphic detail for jurors the wound that led to his death.

    READ MORE.

    As Oakland awaits verdict, police prep for rioting (Opinion)

    From Susan Mernit at Oakland Local

    So, the verdict in the Johannes Mehserle trial for the killing of Oscar Grant is most likely to be issued in the next 10 days  Oakland police are already on high alert; their Twitter feed, which has been fairly quiet since it launched in on April 12, is pretty focused on sharing news about their prepping for after the trial. I

    n anticipation of rioting after the verdict, OPD has issued a community bulletin for residents and merchants which advises parking your car securely, locking up trash cans and closing your business early.

    Is this alarmist, good prep, or what? Will looking up your cars and trash cans make a difference here?

    Read more about the current mood from a cross section of writers:

    Posted by Spot. Us on 06/30/10
  • 6/29/10
  • Historic Trial Nears End

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    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat, The Bay Citizen and The Campanil.

    This piece was produced by Thandisizwe Chimurenga for Oakland Local. Follow on Twitter @OscarGrantTrial

    For coverage of Mehserle on Trial read our partners content at The California Beat.


    Closing arguments in the case of People v. Johannes Mehserle could be held on Thursday, July 1, 2010. The defense for the former Bay Area Rapid transit officer, accused of the murder of Oscar Grant, is scheduled to call its last witness Tuesday, June 29.

    Monday began with the testimony of Greg Meyer, a 20-year police tactical consultant.  Meyer retired from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2006 and was called by the defense to offer his expert opinion in arrest procedures.  He is also certified as an M-26 and an X-26 Taser instructor.  The X-26 is the model that was carried by Johannes Mehserle on Jan. 1, 2009.

    Under questioning by Rains Meyer stated that based on his analysis of the videos from New Year’s Day 2009, testimony and statements, Oscar Grant was resisting his lawful arrest that early morning on the Fruitvale platform.

    Meyer stated more than once throughout the morning that Grant was “physically resistant” to both former officer Tony Pirone and Mehserle.  “When a person will not show their hands, they are physically resistant,” he said.

    Defense attorney Michael Rains has maintained that the resistance Grant put up to Mehserle’s lawful attempt to arrest him is the reason for Mehserle’s decision to deploy his taser on Grant.  Mehserle has said he drew his service revolver and shot Grant in the back accidentally.

    As Rains went through Mehserle’s other options for subduing Grant (kicking, stick,baton, pepper spray) Meyer answered “He could have, but he did not.  The Taser was an acceptable use of force.”

    Meyer said he would not advise the use of a baton or standing up and kicking a person in the ribs because it “might inflame the passions of those around you.”

    The former LAPD officer, who said he was familiar with Mehserle’s Taser training, authored an article on a number of cases where officers could have used their firearms but chose the Taser instead, and said that Mehserle’s objective was reasonable and appropriate.  He also said that the Taser training the former BART officer received was not adequate enough to prevent “taser confusion.”

    As an expert on Tasers and their use, Meyer said he had identified at least two common themes among the six cases of “Taser confusion” presented in court:  the individuals involved always drew their firearm with their strong/dominant hand; and only one round was fired each time.  “Police training is two or three rounds until you can tell if a person has been subdued,” he said.

    On cross-examination, DA David Stein asked Meyer’s relationship to Taser International, the company that makes the model X-26 that Mehserle was using.  Meyers answered that he teaches at the company’s nationwide academy and “kind of” acts as an adviser – “They call me and I answer questions” – but his not on their board and draws no salary from them.

    Meyers does however, get compensated for being an expert witness in Mehserle’s defense:  $5000 as a retainer, $3,500 per court appearance and a fee of $300 per hour. 

    As a consultant, Meyer also testified for the defense in the officers accused of beating Rodney King in 1992. His testimony was that those officers did not use excessive force in subduing their suspect, King.

    Stein probed the issue deeper in relation to Pirone and Grant by asking if Pirone used excessive force against the 22-year old man.  “I don’t recall anything where he was over the line; in viewing the video tapes, nothing jumped out at me as, “Why did he do that?” 

    Stein’s questions continued to call into question Meyer’s opinion, formed in March of 2009, that Grant was resisting.  “Did you consider the extent to which another officer was restraining Mr. Grant?  Did you consider Mehserle’s and Pirone’s weight with vests and gear – 500 pounds?  “I considered it and rejected it, said Meyers.”

    “It was very clear to me that Mr. Grant was using his muscles over several seconds to keep from giving his right arm to Officer Mehserle.”

    Mehserle weighed approximately 250 pounds and stood 6-feet-four inches on Jan. 1, 2009. 
     

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 06/29/10
  • 6/26/10
  • New footage released shows Oscar Grant shooting

    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat, The Bay Citizen and The Campanil.

    This piece was produced by California Beat.

    LOS ANGELES — Video footage showing the New Year’s Day 2009 shooting of unarmed BART passenger Oscar Grant by a former BART Police Officer that has never before been viewed outside of a courtroom was publicly released by the Los Angeles County Superior Court Thursday afternoon.

    The videos were taken by BART passenger Tommy Cross and have been introduced into evidence in the murder trial of former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle. The videos have been enhanced by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

    Also released Thursday were BART Police dispatch recordings, transcripts and photographic evidence used by the prosecution and defense.

    Posted by The Campanil on 06/26/10
  • 6/25/10
  • Mehserle trial: The Accused Takes The Stand

    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat and The Campanil.

    This piece was produced by Thandisizwe Chimurenga for Oakland Local. Follow on twitter @OscarGrantTrial. California Beat's coverage of Mehserle taking the stand can be found here.

    Day 10 of the People vs. Mehserle trial ended June 24 with defendant Johannes Mehserle taking the stand.

    Mehserle, a former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer, is accused of murder in the death of Oscar Grant, who was shot in the back while prone at an Oakland rail station on New Year’s Day 2009.

    Defense attorney Michael Rains’ first sought to humanize his client, asking about his family life and what he was voted "most" in high school:  Mehserle said he was voted “Most Huggable."

    It stood in stark contrast to his questioning days earlier, on June 22, which sought to portray 22-year old Grant as a violent aggressor.

    Judge Robert Perry interrupted Rains’ twice saying “We have to get to the case."

    Thursday, Rains asked Mehserle how he became interested in police work and about his enrollment at the Napa Valley Police Academy in July 2006 and his graduation in December of that year.

    Rains asked Mehserle about his training, focusing on the practice of drawing a gun from a holster and developing “muscle memory.”

    While still a cadet at Napa, Mehserle attended a recruitment event with representatives from BART and other agencies. He applied and, after a three-month process, was sworn in as a BART officer in March 2007.

    Rains asked Mehserle about his training as a rookie with the agency, and Mehserle’s attempt to develop his own “style.” Mehserle said that, prior to BART, he came from a customer service-type background where his approach had involved communicating with people.

    “I wasn’t very hands on,” he said. 

    Court ended June 24 after Mehserle had been on the stand for only about an hour. But he had time to share how he answered the call on Jan. 1, 2009, to assist other officers at the Fruitvale transit station. He said he and his partner that night, officer John Woffendine, arrived in about five minutes and had been coming from the West Oakland BART station.

    Mehserle said there was “lots of noise upstairs”; he could hear yelling and screaming when he got out of his car, and added that he was worried about the officers upstairs.

    He said, as he arrived on the platform, he saw three people "advancing" toward former officers Anthony Pirone and Marysol Domenici. 

    “They looked like they were going to interfere,” he said.

    According to his recollection, Mehserle said there were four people seated against wall and he identified Grant and Jack Bryson as being “upset.”

    Mehserle stated he saw Pirone and Domenici with their Tasers drawn, and he took out his also, focusing on Grant and Bryson. He said the two were yelling about Pirone, saying “eff him, eff that officer,” and, “I’m going to sue him.”

    Mehserle said he got them to settle down, and asked Oscar Grant to put away his cell phone.

    Before Mehserle took the stand, Michael Schott, a forensic video image analyst, wrapped up two day's worth of testimony at the trial. He focused on sequences of images from six videos from Jan. 1, 2009.

    Schott showed frames from the videos, slowly progressing through them rather than playing the videos in their entirety. The videos he showed had not been enhanced; they were somewhat blurry and, though Schott stressed he was only giving his interpretation, he kept eye contact with the jury and spoke authoritatively.

    Prosecutor David Stein, deputy district attorney, asked Schott about his law-enforcement background and in how many cases he had testified where police officers had been accused of misconduct. Schott replied "probably" more than 50.

    When Stein asked Schott if his law enforcement background made Schott biased toward law enforcement, Schott said it did not.

    Later, Stein asked Schott, in relation to the videos, whether he thought it would be helpful to listen to the audio as he watched them.

    Scott replied, "It doesn't necessarily change what is on the screen."

    Stein challenged Schott about specific scenes in the  videos: "In this case, where observers and witnesses reacted to Oscar Grant being struck by Pirone, are you saying that's not what they saw?" he asked.

    Schott replied, "There is no doubt they are mistaken."

    Regarding Pirone kneeing Grant, Stein asked, "Did you factor in what you heard in your interpretation that Officer Pirone did not strike Oscar Grant in the head?"

    Schott said, "No, I am looking to see if his foot left the platform."

    Schott had earlier testified that, just before Pirone placed his knee on Grant’s head or neck, Pirone could be seen in the video “placing his hand between Oscar Grant’s head and the concrete pavement.”

    With incredulity in his voice, Stein asked Schott, “Is that what you believe?”
     
    Rains said he will call his last witness Monday, June 28. The case is scheduled to go to the jury by the end of next week.

    Mehserle is scheduled to return to the stand today.

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 06/25/10
  • 6/22/10
  • Prosecution rests in Mehserle trial; BART train operator downplays severity of fight

    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat and The Campanil.

    This piece was produced by California Beat and The Campanil.

    The prosecution in the second-degree murder trial against former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle — who shot and killed unarmed passenger Oscar Grant on the Fruitvale BART station platform January 1, 2009 — rested its case late Monday.

    Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Stein called five witnesses — three of them BART employees  — to the stand Monday and played a synchronized video showing the incident as captured from six different angles by bystanders and a security camera side by side.

    The videos were played along with BART Police Dispatch recordings detailing the nine minutes between when a BART train operator called for police assistance to deal with a fight on board her train and when Mehserle fired a single gunshot into Grant’s back.

    This morning, the train operator downplayed the severity of the incident on the witness stand.

    Keecha Williams said she received two calls of a fight on the train as she was pulling into the Fruitvale BART station, first from a female passenger, and then a male passenger who told the operator he did not see any weapons being used.

    Williams said she then called BART Central Control and was told by dispatchers to wait at the station with the doors open for transit police.

    Williams, a BART train operator since 2004, said she did not actually witness the fight but saw people standing up on their seats to avoid it.

    She downplayed the severity of the brawl that involved Grant, his friends, and another man identified as David Horowitz, telling Stein that the fight was typical of the commotion that usually happens on trains in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day.

    When former BART Officer Tony Pirone responded to the platform, she said he asked her what was going on, to which she replied that it was the “same B.S. It’s just what we get on New Year’s [...] It’s just the norm.”

    Pirone never asked if anyone had been injured on the train or whether she believed anyone had weapons, she testified.

    The train operator then refuted testimony given by Pirone last week, saying Pirone did not ask who had been involved in the fight. Pirone testified last Friday that he did ask.

    The operator’s attention then turned to Pirone jabbing his arms and “fighting somebody.”

    “He’s just punching someone in front of him,” she said. “That was the focal point.”

    She testified that right before she heard the gunshot ring out, a woman called her over the intercom to ask her to shut the doors because she did not want to get shot.

    Stein also called Vicki Long of the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office to the stand today to present the prosecution’s synchronized video.

    According to the video, the first dispatch call is made at 2:02 a.m.; at 2:04 Pirone arrives on the scene, then the next minute former BART Officer Marysol Domenici is called and arrives. A minute after that Pirone can be seen banging on the train’s window and yelling at Grant and Michael Greer to exit the train.

    Mehserle arrives at 2:08 a.m. and shoots Grant with his service weapon at 2:11 a.m.

    The prosecution has charged Mehserle with murder in Grant’s death, contending that the former BART Police Officer intentionally shot the 22-year-old with his gun. Defense attorney Michael Rains argues his client accidentally pulled his gun from its holster and instead meant to fire his Taser.

    Stein continued to play footage after the shot rang out; Judge Robert Perry asked Stein why he was showing so much of the footage, but Stein argued that the behavior of the officers after the shot spoke to their state of mind.

    Under cross examination Rains challenged Long’s credentials, noting that she testified as a “lay witness” in previous cases. He also said that the lossy image compression used in preparing the prosecution’s synchronization is not fit for evidentiary or analytical purposes, to which Long replied that she saw the prosecution’s synchronization as a “demonstrative tool,” not a piece of evidence to be analyzed for fine details.

    An evidence technician for BART Police also took the stand today to describe the processing of evidence found on the platform after the incident. But under cross examination from Rains, BART Police Officer Brandon Moore said Mehserle was a “pleasant officer to work with.”

    On Tuesday — when the defense will begin presenting its case — Mehserle’s attorney Michael Rains is expected to call to the witness stand San Leandro Police Officer Alex Hidas who will testify about his encounter with Grant that resulted in a police pursuit through city streets and the use of a taser on the Hayward resident.

    The trial against Mehserle was moved to Los Angeles County over concerns that he would not receive a fair trial in Alameda County.

    The California Beat and The Campanil’s joint continuing coverage of the Johannes Mehserle BART Shooting trial is funded in part through Spot.Us. Visit our special trial news page and help fund this project.

    Tashina Manyak reported from Los Angeles. Contact Tashina Manyak at tmanyak@californiabeat.org.

    Posted by The Campanil on 06/22/10
  • 6/20/10
  • Former BART Officers Wrap up Last Week's Testimony in Oscar Grant Case

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    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat and The Campanil.

    This piece was produced by Thandisizwe Chimurenga for Oakland Local. Follow on twitter @OscarGrantTrial.

    Testimony in the trial of former Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle concluded Friday with the appearances of former officers Marysol Domenici and Anthony Pirone.

    Both officers were fired by BART last spring based on recommendations from a private firm that investigated the shooting.

    Domenici changed her testimony from earlier reports, and video evidence appeared to contradict some of her recollections. Pirone said there were many things he did not recall about that morning. A witness for the prosecution who is trained in non-lethal police tactics may have given the defense a boost when he shared a story about unwittingly pulling his gun on a suspect.

    Mehserle is charged with murder in the New Year’s Day 2009 shooting death of an unarmed and prone Oscar Grant on the Fruitvale BART platform in Oakland, Calif. 

    Mehserle resigned from his job in January 2009 on the day he was due to speak with BART investigators regarding the shooting.

    Pirone was the first officer to arrive on the station platform on Jan. 1, 2009, and some witnesses said it was his aggression that led to Grant’s shooting by Mehserle. Domenici was the second officer on the scene. Her presence was requested by Pirone to help detain a group of Grant’s friends as they were leaving a south-bound train. 

    Domenici’s testimony, which began Thursday afternoon, was confusing and complicated as she answered many of the questions posed by Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Stein. Judge Robert Perry interjected on more than one occasion, saying “That’s not what he’s asking.”

    Stein suggested in court that Domenici exaggerated the danger on the Fruitvale platform to justify her fellow officers' actions and Grant’s shooting. 

    In preliminary hearings last year, Domenici testified she feared for her safety when she arrived on the platform because “hundreds of people” were coming toward her as doors opened on the train. During this week’s testimony, she said it was actually “40 to 50” people. When Stein showed video from a BART surveillance camera of Domenici arriving on the nearly empty platform, Domenici said the camera “did not show everything.”

    Videos also showed Domenici looking away from the area where Grant was shot. When asked by Stein why she did not take out her weapon when she heard the gunshot, she said it was because of the expression on her fellow officers’ faces.

    Pirone, dressed similarly to Mehserle in a light grey business suit and yellow tie, appeared calm and cooperative on the witness stand.

    Pirone was pulling Michael Greer off the train when, witnesses stated in court, he threw the young man into a concrete wall and then pushed him to the ground and handcuffed him. Pirone said he “nudged him towards the wall. Greer put his hands on the wall, pushed himself back and spun around, took a fighting position, clenched his fists, left foot in front of the right, like a boxer …” Saying he “didn’t want to get hit,” Pirone grabbed Greer by his dreadlocks and pulled him over his leg and onto the ground.

    Pirone at many points said he did not remember many details of that morning. At other points, he seemed to remember things quite vividly. He denied walking over to and striking Grant, which was graphicly depicted in one of the videos played in court. He said he did "not remember that whole block of time” from walking over to Grant until when Mehserle showed up.

    Pirone did remember Grant trying to “wiggle” his head out from under his knee. But he denied it when Stein asked, “Did you ever hear Oscar Grant say he couldn’t breathe?” 

    There was some discussion of what Pirone remembered about a conversation surrounding the use of a racial slur.

    Pirone, who had threatened repeatedly to Tase the young men that morning, said he thought they could "have a dialogue like adults" when Grant said, "I’ve got a 4-year-old daughter. I respect the police.” Pirone said he took this as a sign of a commonality. Seizing on this, he said he asked Grant, “What would your daughter think,” about Grant's behavior. That’s when he said Grant called him a “bitch ass n-----.”

    In the video played in court, Pirone is heard yelling the slur at Grant twice, at which point Mehserle began to slam Grant down.

    At this point, Pirone says he heard Mehserle say “Tony, Tony, get up, get back, I’m going to Tase him …”.  Pirone then stated on the stand that he thought it was “odd” that Mehserle was telling him to get up because he (Pirone) had “control.”

    After Grant was shot, Pirone says he thought Mehserle’s Taser had “malfunctioned” because he looked at Grant’s back “looking for the probes from the taser.”  He says he then saw Mehserle holding his gun with a two-handed grip.  Pirone then told Mehserle to handcuff Grant and said he remembered looking at Grant’s back and seeing the hole in his shirt; the round that had been fired from Mehserle’s gun was on the outside of the front of Grant’s shirt, looking silver and “mushroomed.”

    At this point, Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant, began weeping in the courtroom.

    After Pirone radioed to get an ambulance he says that Mehserle stated to him, “Tony, I thought he was going for a gun.”  Asked by Stein what he said in response, Pirone replied, “Yeah.”

    Prior to the testimony of the two former officers, the prosecution called Sean McCann as another expert witness in defensive tactics. 

    McCann, a former Berkeley, Calif., police officer who is certified by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, testified to the various less than lethal options available to most officers, including chemical agents and batons. He said part of an officer’s training usually includes objectivity and patience.

    “If emotions are not held in check, they can affect an officer,” he said.

    McCann recounted how, after an encounter with a suspect that included fighting in the street and a foot chase, McCann pushed a suspect against a wall with one hand and “noticed” he had his gun in the other hand pointed at the man’s head.

    “I don’t know how I did that,” he said.

    Rains took the opportunity to investigate this on re-direct, but Stein tried to emphasize that the two situations were almost polar opposites.

    Stein tried to have McCann explain that he stopped his suspect after a high-adrenaline chase, and the man was closer to 6 feet tall and nearly 300 pounds. Oscar Grant, on the other hand, was not chased, and had a much smaller frame, 5 feet 8 inches tall and about 160 pounds.

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 06/20/10
  • 6/19/10
  • Interview with Reporter Thandisizwe and New American Media

    Journalist Thandisizwe Chimurenga provides the latest update on the Johannes Mehserle murder trial.  The former transit officer is charged with the New Years Day 2009 killing of Oscar Grant III at an Oakland subway station.

    This part of a reporter from New American Media, a partnering organization in our ongoing coverage. You can listen to the specific interview with Thandisizwe here.

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 06/19/10
  • 6/18/10
  • Former BART officer describes what happened morning Grant was shot

    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat and The Campanil.

    This post was produced by The Campanil and California Beat.

    Former BART Police Officer Marysol Domenici, whose role in the events leading up to the shooting of unarmed BART passenger Oscar Grant by former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle has sparked controversy, took the witness stand Thursday in Mehserle’s second-degree murder trial.

    Domenici was one of the first officers to respond to the Fruitvale BART station in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009, working with fellow former BART Police Officer Anthony Pirone to detain Grant and his friends on the platform after reports of an altercation on the train.

    Both Domenici and Pirone were terminated from BART Police earlier this year after a third-party review of the incident recommended their firings. Both are appealing the decisions.

    On the witness stand Thursday morning, Domenici appeared to have problems giving answers to questions posed by Deputy District Attorney David Stein, who grilled the former police officer about testimony she gave to an Alameda County judge about how volatile the situation at Fruitvale BART was moments before the Grant shooting.

    “Did you ever exaggerate the behavior of the people on that platform so as to make it appear officers were in more danger than they were to justify the shooting of Grant by Johannes Mehserle?” Stein asked the former officer.

    “No, sir,” she replied.

    During preliminary hearings held in Oakland to determine whether Mehserle should be tried, Domenici testified that Grant and his friends ignored orders she gave to sit down on the platform. She told the judge that the shooting could have been prevented if Grant had followed orders from officers.

    The prosecution jumped on another statement the former officer gave about Grant grabbing her left arm and holding on to her after she attempted to detain another individual on the platform, Grant’s longtime friend Jackie Bryson.

    Domenici testified that her lawyer told her amateur video footage recorded by BART passenger Daniel Liu proved that Grant touched her before he was shot by Mehserle.

    When the video in question was played by Stein, it appeared to show Grant’s arm crossing with Domenici’s. But Stein then played footage from another video — shot from a different angle by Karina Vargas — that shows Grant touching Bryson’s arm, not the former officer’s.

    After watching the videos, Domenici appeared frazzled on the witness stand. She later reneged on the claim that Grant had touched her.

    “I don’t remember his hand at all [...] I don’t remember him grabbing my arm,” she told the jury.

    She later admitted that the young men on the platform “never struggled with me.” She also said that when she and Pirone drew their Tasers, the young men “calmed down.”

    Mehserle’s defense strategy relies in part on the argument that Grant “actively resisted” officers, including Domenici, on the Fruitvale station platform.

    Stein also criticized Domenici’s characterization of what she saw when she arrived at the platform.

    “You said during the preliminary hearing that about 40 to 50 people came off the BART train and that you felt threatened,” he said. “Do you remember giving that testimony?”

    “I saw people,” she responded vaguely.

    When Stein played security camera footage of the platform, Domenici can be seen running down an empty platform without anyone walking off the train.

    When questioned where the 40 to 50 people were, Domenici first said they could not be seen in the video. She said they were on board the Dublin/Pleasanton-bound BART train.

    “When I said the platform, to me the train is an extension of the platform,” she said.

    The former officer’s testimony became strained and rambling at times during questioning by Stein, causing Judge Robert Perry to intervene and ask Domenici to respond more carefully.

    “Listen to the question and try to understand it before you answer it,” said Perry, adding he noticed a “disconnect between the questions asked and the answers” Domenici was giving.

    Her responses caused a stir in the courtroom gallery when members in the audience were heard murmuring comments about Domenici.

    “She’s dumb,” an audience member remarked.

    The comment prompted a stern lecture to the courtroom from Judge Perry, who reprimanded the audience for making “audible comments” during her testimony. He threatened to ban from the courtroom anyone who continued to make audible responses.

    Outside the courtroom, Grant’s family reacted strongly to Domenici’s testimony, saying that her statements weren’t backed by video evidence.

    “She did the same thing at the preliminary hearing,” Grant’s uncle Daryl Johnson said. “She has trouble remembering things that have happened unless her lawyer told her that they did. Her verbal accounts don’t match what she sees on video.”

    Pirone, who partnered Domenici that night, is expected to take the stand Friday after Domenici is cross examined by the defense. Every witness who has taken the stand so far who was present at Fruitvale BART that night has described Pirone’s behavior as aggressive and offensive.

    Domenici’s testimony came after a surprise in the morning session, when an expert witness for the prosecution, ex-Berkeley Police Officer Sean McCann, told the court under cross examination that he had once drawn his gun on a suspect without realizing it.

    McCann testified that he was attempting to detain a violent robbery suspect in Berkeley when he suddenly discovered he had drawn his weapon on the man. The former Berkeley cop said he did not remember pulling the firearm out of its holster.

    McCann is currently a defensive tactics instructor for law enforcement organizations and was brought on by the prosecution to testify about use of force by police officers.

    Defense attorney Michael Rains seized on the admission, immediately asking McCann about the incident. Stein, who appeared to be caught off-guard by the officer’s recollection, attempted to differentiate McCann’s incident from the Grant shooting, a move Grant’s family agreed with.

    Johnson said that while the witness appeared to help the defense, the situations cannot be compared.

    “The difference between what happened with that officer and Mehserle are night and day. That officer was fighting for his life. Mehserle was not,” he said.

    Earlier, BART Police training instructor Sergeant Eugene Wong finished testimony begun Tuesday. Court was not in session on Wednesday due to a state-mandated furlough.

    Rains asked Wong, who has worked directly with Mehserle, about the amount of time he spent teaching the Koga Method of search and arrest techniques to incoming officers.

    Wong said they spent seven hours teaching nine techniques. He called it an ambitious agenda and said that officers were not required to demonstrate proficiency.

    Rains used his line of questioning to try to establish that Mehserle was undertrained. The defense contends that poor training contributed to Mehserle accidentally firing his gun when he meant to use his Taser.

    BART no longer uses the Koga Method for police training.

    Stein then brought on David Chlebowski, a BART Police officer in Internal Affairs. Questioned about Mehserle’s training, Chlebowski confirmed the former officer passed multiple assessments administered by the agency on using his Sig Sauer handgun, tests which were given during both day and night.

    Stein had Chlebowski recite each date Mehserle received training, in an apparent effort to show that Mehserle was indeed sufficiently trained. The prosecution argues Mehserle meant to reach for his gun, after allowing emotions to impede restraint during the chaotic atmosphere on the platform.

    Testimony in the trial continues Friday in Los Angeles, where the case has been moved due to concerns over whether Mehserle could receive a fair trial in the Bay Area.

    The California Beat and The Campanil’s joint continuing coverage of the Johannes Mehserle BART Shooting trial is funded in part through Spot.Us. Visit our special trial news page and help fund this project.

    Beat reporters Tashina Manyak and Jennifer Courtney reported from Los Angeles. Contact Tashina Manyak at tmanyak@californiabeat.org.

    Domenici was one of the first officers to respond to the Fruitvale BART station in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009, working with fellow former BART Police Officer Anthony Pirone to detain Grant and his friends on the platform after reports of an altercation on the train.

    Both Domenici and Pirone were terminated from BART Police after a third-party review of the incident recommended their firings. Both are appealing the decisions.

    Posted by The Campanil on 06/18/10
  • 6/17/10
  • Pirone Expected After Delay in Trial

    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat and The Campanil.

    This post is by Thandisizwe Chimurenga.

    Follow on twitter @OscarGrantTrial

    The fifth day of testimony in the murder trial of Johannes Mehserle resumes Thursday, June 17, after a state-mandated furlough day on Wednesday, June 16, with former BART Officer Anthony “Tony” Pirone scheduled to take the stand.

    Pirone, the first officer to arrive on the Fruitvale Station platform the morning of Jan. 1, 2009, was fired by the agency in April 2010, based on recommendations from a private firm that had been hired to investigate Mehserle’s shooting of an unarmed and prone Oscar Grant.

    Pirone’s appearance comes after expert testimony given on Tuesday, June 15, by three police training officers from BART and one from the Napa Valley College police academy that Mehserle attended.

    DAY FOUR

    Paul Slivinsky, Paul Garcia and Eugene Wong testified as to the safety features of BART standard-issue service weapons, orientation and policies iterated to new BART hires, and defensive tactics and the proper methods for searching and handcuffing.

    David Clark testified as to the firearms training of cadets at the Napa academy, such as the proper way to grip, draw and fire their weapons. “Its not a simple act to simply draw a gun from a holster,” he told the court.

    Upon questioning by Deputy District Attorney David Stein and cross-examination by Michael Rains, the testimony of all four expert witnesses concurred that Mehserle’s actions were out of line with his training.

    Since the trial began, Rains has maintained that the movements Mehserle made in the seconds leading up to the shooting of Grant were consistent with the movements he would use to pull his Taser and not his service weapon.

    Mehserle’s weapon, Taser and the holster they were contained in have all been entered as evidence to the court.  Some of the expert testimony from Garcia included his hands-on demonstration to the jury on how to grip and release a service weapon from the ALS holster, which stands for Automatic Locking System.  Such a system is designed to keep the weapon from falling out accidentally or having someone grab the weapon if they are unfamiliar with that particular type of holster.

    Mehserle is not the only former officer whose actions that morning have been described as being out of line. 

    All five of the previous week’s witnesses who video-recorded the events of Jan. 1 2009, say they did so because of Pirone’s actions, which included cursing and an excessive use of force.

    Immediately prior to the start of the trial, Rains had sought to have Pirone’s use of a racial slur excluded from the testimony he will be asked to give when he takes the stand.  The judge denied that motion but both Rains and William Rapoport, Pirone’s attorney, say that Pirone was responding to being called the slur first by Grant.

    Videos show contact being made by Pirone and Grant twice.  Stein argues that Pirone struck Grant unjustifiably while Rapoport and Rains say that Grant attempted to knee Pirone in the groin twice.

    Videos of the interactions between Pirone and Grant also show Pirone stepping out of view of the camera, presumably to confer with the BART train operator.  Once Pirone comes back into the frame he is pointing towards Grant, giving the order for him to be arrested. 

    Although Pirone does not give the order to be arrest at the exact point of the alleged assault, that decision might not necessarily be out of policy, according to Linton Johnson, BART’s Chief Communications Officer. “Assault on a police officer is against the law. Police are to enforce the law.   How they choose to do that is dependent on the circumstances they face at the time,” he said 

    While Johnson declined to comment specifically on Pirone’s actions, he did say that the agency wants its officers “to exercise their best judgement, and we provide them with the tools and the training to do that, and after Jan. 1 [2009] we have increased the number of tools and amount of training we give these officers so they can make the best choice possible when confronted with any situation.”

    DAY THREE

    Sophina Mesa, fiancée of Oscar Grant and Carlos Reyes who was with Grant on the Fruitvale platform, concluded their testimony earlier Monday, June 14.  Mesa stated that she called Grant from the street entrance to the Fruitvale Station after they became separated.  She said Grant told her that he was being beaten by BART officers for no reason and quickly hung up the phone.  Grant also snapped a photo of Mehserle standing in front of him with his Taser drawn around the same time.

    Mesa, who occasionally wiped tears from her eyes, also testified that Grant had confided to her that he had been tased and that he said he “wouldn’t wish it on anyone.” Rains attempted to find out under what circumstances Grant had told Mesa that information, asking if she knew that he had been tased after disobeying commands to stop running from a San Leandro police officer and then being tased and kicked for not giving up his hands fast enough.  Judge Perry inserted his own objection at this line of questioning and Rains moved on.

    Stein’s examination of Reyes’ was short and his testimony appeared credible.  Rains’ cross-examination however, began Friday afternoon, June 11 and continued through Monday, with the majority of it appearing inconsistent, particularly when checked against his testimony with investigators from BART, the Alameda County DA’s office and investigators from the private firm that investigated the shooting. The majority of his answers consisted of “I don’t remember,” or “I don’t recall.”

    At some point during the lengthy cross-examination, which had begun Friday afternoon, June 11 and ended Monday, June 14, Reyes, who appeared emotional on the stand, admitted that he had lied to BART investigators while in custody at BART police headquarters.  When queried by Stein as to the reason why he stated he was scared because he “just saw [BART police] shoot someone he was close to for no reason.”

    Three other witnesses also testified earlier in the week. Pam Caneva, Lydia Clay and Lynda Kiersted who had been traveling together on BART from San Francisco towards Hayward said they saw an “angry” and “aggressive” Tony Pirone yelling, cursing, and using excessive force with Michael Greer moments before Grant was shot by Mehserle. 

    Caneva misidentified Mehserle in court and stated he was the officer who had initially removed Grant from the train.  She stated that she saw Mehserle attempting to handcuff Grant and thought, “ … wow, he must be strong,” in response to what she perceived as Mehserle’s difficulty getting Grant’s arm. 

    All three of the witnesses also said they contacted BART police officials after learning of Grant’s death on the news because they said they were “angry and upset” about the incident.  “It didn’t have to happen,” said Clay.

    Testimony on Monday, June 14 also included a description by Dr. Alden Harken, Chief of Surgery at Highland Hospital, of the institution’s attempts to save Grant’s life.  As Grant’s mother Wanda Jones wept, Hanken testified that Grant “oozed and bled from everything,”  saying he doctors were unable to stop Grant’s internal bleeding from the bullet which entered just left of his spine in the lower back, traveling upward to the right and lodging just over his breastbone. 

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 06/17/10
  • 6/16/10
  • Firearms in the spotlight as Mehserle murder trial continues

    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat and The Campanil.

    These two posts were produced by California Beat.

    (6/15) — UPDATED 19:55 PDT — LOS ANGELES — Firearms training was in the spotlight Tuesday as experts testified that movements made by former BART Police officer Johannes Mehserle to release the weapon holstered at his right hip were inconsistent with the proper way to draw a gun.

    Mehserle is charged with second degree murder for fatally shooting unarmed BART passenger Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009.

    Paul Slivinsky, a recently retired BART SWAT officer who examined the weapon Mehserle used to shoot Grant — a Sig Sauer pistol — shortly after the shooting, testified that the gun was “in perfect condition.”

    During cross examination by defense attorney Michael Rains, Slivinsky was asked about the safety mechanism of the gun. Slivinsky said the Sig “only has passive safeties,” meaning that there is no thumb mechanism on the side of the weapon that must be pushed upward to discharge it like there is for Tasers.

    The defense has argued that in video footage of the incident, Mehserle can be seen swiping his thumb against the side of his gun, an action Rains said indicates Mehserle was trying to remove his Taser.

    READ THE FULL STORY

    Grant's friend tells of rough handling by police before, after Grant's shooting

    (6/15) — 00:55 PDT — LOS ANGELES — One of BART shooting victim Oscar Grant’s friends described Monday the events leading up to the New Year’s Day 2009 shooting as witness testimony in the second-degree murder trial of Johannes Mehserle, the former BART Police officer who shot Grant, continued.

    22-year-old Carlos Reyes, who was only two feet away from Grant at the time of the shooting, said the incident began after a short fight between Grant and another man on the BART train.

    When the train stopped at the Fruitvale BART station, former BART Police Officer Anthony Pirone, who was the first police officer to reach the scene, “grabbed my shoulder and pulled me toward the wall,” Reyes testified.

    “[Pirone] came up behind Michael [Greer, another of Grant's friends] and put his arm around his neck, choking him kind of. He threw him down face first [...] then he kneed him a couple of times,” Reyes said. “I was asking him to stop.”

    Reyes said that when he stood up to protest, Pirone “just turned around and […] told me to sit down and shut the f– up or he was going to Tase me. Then he said the same to Oscar.”

    According to Reyes, Grant then said, “please don’t Tase me, I’ve got a daughter.”

    READ THE FULL STORY

     

    Posted by The Campanil on 06/16/10
  • 6/15/10
  • Oscar Grant Protest at the LA Courthouse

    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat and The Campanil.

    This post was produced by California Beat. Photos were provided by Thandisizwe Chimurenga. Oakland Local had a roundup of coverage here.

    (6/14) — 15:30 PDT — LOS ANGELES — Protesters in support of Oscar Grant, the the 22-year-old man shot and killed by former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, interrupted a dueling demonstration organized by Michael Jackson fans this afternoon in front of the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center on a day that attracted media attention from around the world at the Downtown Los Angeles Courthouse.

    The side-by-side protests remained peaceful with no arrests reported, but about 20 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies blocked off the main entrance stairway in front of the courthouse at 2:00 p.m. after Grant supporters began to chant “Justice for Oscar Grant!” during a press conference held to discuss a judge’s decision to allow Dr. Conray Murray to keep his medical license.

    Murray was Jackson’s private doctor and is accused of involuntary manslaughter for the death of the pop icon after he administered lethal doses of a drug to the singer.

    The courthouse atmosphere was made tenser as Jackson supporters took offense to the Grant supporters chanting during the press conference. Some began yelling “Justice for Michael Jackson” in response.

    The Murray court hearing attracted a throng of media representatives and Jackson supporters from around the world, and was held on the same floor as the Mehserle trial but in a different courtroom.

    The Grant protest began early this morning with an assembled crowd of at least 20 protesters that quickly grew in size.

    At noon, the crowd numbered 60 supporters who called for an end to police misconduct and the conviction of Mehserle.

    The group initially gathered near a back driveway to the courthouse in hopes of being visible to jurors, Mehserle and his legal team as they drove in. Then they moved to the corners of Broadway and Spring streets, at one point spanning the length of the block as Jackson fans began to arrive.

    As of press time, few Grant protesters remained outside the courthouse, mingling with Jackson supporters.

    “I’m tired of letting the police do what they want and getting away with it,” said Juan Lopez, a Los Angeles resident who showed up Monday morning to protest against police misconduct.

    At the noontime lunch break Grant’s family appeared happy to see support from the protesters, who yelled “We love you!” several times as family members exited the courtroom.

    “As long as we stand together our voice can be heard,” Cephus Johnson, Grant’s uncle, told the crowd. “We know how important this is.”

    “This case was put in there in hopes you wouldn’t find out about it,” he said as he pointed to the courthouse, to which those gathered responded “We know, we know!”

    Organizer Aidge Patterson, from the LA Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant, said today’s protest was one of several in large cities across the country.

    Patterson also organized a rally last Thursday for opening statements and told the Beat he wants to see justice served to Grant’s family.

    “How can you possibly sit back and let this go?” he said, adding that he became involved after watching amateur video of the incident.

    “To this day I tear up at that video,” Patterson said.

    Posted by The Campanil on 06/15/10
  • 6/12/10
  • Friend of Grant’s cries on stand as video of incident played back

    Mehserle_on_trial_1_larger_featured_image

    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat and The Campanil.

    Oakland Local produced a related story found on their website written by Thandisizwe Chimurenga.

    LOS ANGELES — A young friend of Oscar Grant broke down in tears on the witness stand today as video he filmed of Grant’s shooting by former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle was played for a Los Angeles jury.

    And multiple witnesses who took the stand on the second day of Mehserle’s second-degree murder trial said Grant did not resist arrest before the former officer shot him.

     

    Jamil Dewar was in the group of Grant’s friends riding the BART train in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2009, but said he became separated from him at the Fruitvale BART station platform following what Dewar described as a “tussle” on the train between Grant and a man identified as David Horowitz.

    “I saw security, angry faces running toward us, so I got back on the train,” Dewar, who was 16 years old at the time of the incident, said.

    When he looked out of the train’s window, he said, “I started recording [video] because I had never seen anything like that in my life.”

    The prosecution argues the environment on the station platform that night was one of “chaos,” and that out-of-control police officers were abusing Grant and his friends.

    They contend Mehserle intentionally used his gun to shoot the 22-year-old Grant.

    As the sound of the gunshot rang out during playback of Dewar’s footage, the young man broke down in uncontrollable sobs. His mother, who was also weeping, went up to the stand to comfort her son as several people in the courtroom audience also began to cry.

    The emotional scene was enough for Judge Robert Perry to grant Stein’s request to end the morning’s session a few minutes before the scheduled noon lunch break.

    Later, defense attorney Michael Rains grilled Dewar, taking an antagonistic tone he did not use to cross examine other witnesses. He inquired why the young man did not cry when similar video footage was played at the preliminary hearing.

    Dewar said the event was fresher in his mind back then and he has not watched the video since.

    “Oh, so when it was fresh in your mind, you didn’t feel the same emotional response you did today?” Rains asked.

    “No,” Dewar responded, to which Rains shot back, “Oh, OK.”

    Witnesses say Grant and his friends “were cooperating”

    Earlier that morning, several other witnesses testified, including Karina Vargas, Tommy Cross and Daniel Liu, who all recorded videos of the incident as well.

    Vargas, who’s video has been central to the case, said she did not see Grant or any of his friends resist police.

    “To me it looked like they were cooperating,” she testified.

    Vargas said Grant seemed to be trying to calm the situation down after former BART officer Anthony Pirone forced the group against a wall.

    Vargas said she remembers Grant placing his arm against his friend who was yelling at a female officer. Pirone then appeared to run up and hit Grant in the head and push him to the ground.

    Rains argues Grant was not reaching toward his friend but instead was trying to punch the female officer.

    When Grant was face-down on his stomach and Mehserle was trying to handcuff him, Vargas testified that “it didn’t look like he was squirming or fighting.”

    “It looked like he had his arms behind his back voluntarily,” she said.

    Vargas testified she was filming about 10 to 15 feet away, and that she heard Grant say “don’t Tase me, man” several times.

    Cross, whose video has not been released to the public, testified after Vargas and also said he saw no resistance from Grant. He also testified Grant was reaching for his friend, not the officer, before Pirone forced him to the ground.

    Liu, however, said the young men “sometimes stood up and tried to talk [back] to the officers,” though he also maintained that “at times [Grant and his friends] were cooperating.”

    Rains argues Grant was resisting arrest before Mehserle shot him, and that Mehserle used his gun by accident and meant instead to fire his Taser.

    Vargas testified Mehserle was not yelling when trying to handcuff Grant. “[Mehserle] didn’t look angry, he just looked like he was trying to restrain him,” she said under questioning by Stein.

    Both Vargas and Cross testified that the aggressive actions of Pirone, who was the first responder to reports of the fight, caused them to begin recording. Pirone, who was more experienced than Mehserle and has been described by the prosecution as a “big brother” to Mehserle, has been a central figure in witnesses’ accounts of the incident.

    All of today’s witnesses said Pirone used profanity repeatedly.

    Cross said Pirone told Grant and his friends to “get the f– off the train.”

    They said he then forcibly removed one of the men, believed to be Grant’s friend Michael Greer, from the train and threw him into the platform wall.

    Witness Marcus Torres, who was last to testify, said Pirone was acting with such hostility he assumed it was Pirone who fired the gun. Torres did not film footage of the incident but was present at the time of the shooting.

    Grant’s uncle Cephus Johnson said at a press conference today that, while watching footage of the incident was difficult for the family, he thanked the witnesses who filmed the shooting. He said cameras are “the best weapon we have today to document a wrong” and “had none of them taped the video on that platform we probably wouldn’t be here today.”

    Mehserle “dumbfounded” after firing shot

    In cross examination Rains repeatedly asked witnesses to describe Mehserle’s face and demeanor. Rains maintains his client was not belligerent that night and was horrified after committing a grave mistake.

    Vargas told Rains that after Mehserle fired a shot into Grant’s back, he looked shocked, confused and “dumbfounded.” He put his hands up to his head and appeared to mouth “oh, my god,” she testified.

    Cross and Liu described a similar reaction from Mehserle.

    “He looked up and I looked at him and he said either ‘oh sh–’ or ‘oh, my god,’” Cross said.

    The prosecution will continue presenting witnesses on Monday in Los Angeles, where the trial has been moved due to concerns that Mehserle could not receive a fair trial in the Bay Area given the intense publicity the case has received.

    The California Beat and The Campanil’s joint continuing coverage of the Johannes Mehserle BART Shooting trial is funded in part through Spot.Us. Visit our special trial news page and help fund this project.

    Beat reporters Tashina Manyak and Jennifer Courtney reported from Los Angeles. Contact Tashina Manyak at tmanyak@californiabeat.org.

    Posted by The Campanil on 06/12/10
  • 6/11/10
  • Emotional Opening to Mehserle Murder Trial

    Picture_1_larger_featured_image

    This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Loc@l, Placeblogger, California Beat and The Campanil.

    California Beat produced an opening day story as well which you can view here. You can also support their work by donating to this pitch

    The following story was written by Thandisizwe Chimurenga

    Alameda County’s District Attorney gave an evocative opening statement in the murder trial of Johannes Mehserle Thursday, June 10.  
     

    The former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer shot an unarmed Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009 on an Oakland subway platform.  Grant died hours later at a local hospital.  
     

    Amid extensive pre-trial publicity and accusations that African-Americans were prejudiced, the trial was moved to Los Angeles last fall.  
     

    The jury in the Los Angeles is made up of 7 Latinos and 5 whites. 
     

    “Chaos, Distrust and Disorder”
     

    After giving jurors an idea of who Oscar Grant was, the Deputy District Attorney David Stein described for them what the BART system, San Francisco on New Year’s Eve, and the BART system in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve was like.  
     

    He then began to walk them through the sequence of events and some of the video evidence in the case.
     

    “What happens when an officer believes he has the right to mistreat, abuse people in a public setting?” he asked the jurors.  
     

    “Chaos, Distrust and Disorder will ensue.”
     

    “You will see how the incident began and the reaction of the police,” said Stein.  “ … see the reaction of the defendant (Mehserle) resulted in chaos, disorder and distrust,” he said.
     

    The playing of the video where Grant was shot in the back elicited tears from some members of Grant’s family who were in attendance.  
     

    The videos, which have been seen hundreds of times via the internet, were enhanced by the District Attorney’s office, and now appeared much clearer in terms of both picture and sound quality.
     

    On one video, former BART officer Tony Pirone can clearly be heard yelling “Bi@#! Ass N@**!” at Oscar Grant, and Carlos Reyes, seated next to Grant on the platform, can be heard yelling “He’s on my leg,” referring to Grant’s position when Mehserle and Pirone attempt to handcuff him.
     

    On another video, Mehserle is seen pointing his Taser at Oscar Grant; the red laser beam from the Taser clearly visible on Grant’s chest.  On still another video, Grant is seen talking on a cell phone and then taking a picture of Mehserle before placing the phone in his pocket.
     

    The photo that Grant took of Mehserle standing in front of him with his Taser unholstered and in his hand was submitted as evidence by the DA.
     

    Stein referred to Grant’s 2006 charge of resisting arrest in his opening statement by saying that Grant was not resisting arrest on New Year’s Day 2009.
     

    “He knew what that (being tased) felt like; he didn’t want that to happen again.”
     

    Stein wrapped up his approximately 2-hour statement by telling the jurors that “An arrest is an emotional as well as a physical problem,” and that “the shooting of Oscar Grant was a case of “emotion taking over.  It was aggression taking over for training and discipline.”
     

    “The Other Side of the Coin”
     

    Michael Rains, attorney for Mehserle, began his opening statement by telling jurors that “a trial is a controversy.  Like a coin there are two sides.  The defense will tell the other side.”  
     

    Rains went on to refute most of the prosecutor’s opening statement and told the jurors that Stein “spent a lot of time talking (Tony) Pirone,” but not his client.  “Mehserle,” he said, “was only on the platform two-and-a-half minutes before the shot was fired.”
     

    Rains used cardboard projections and referred to screen shots of the various videos in the case to make his points instead of walking through them the way Stein did.  The approach was obviously not as effective as the DA’s because at least two jurors fell asleep during Rains’ argument.
     

    The judge had the jurors leave the room and they were brought back in and advised by the judge to let him know should the need a break.
     

    “The Two T’s”

    “This case is about tragedy and training,” said Rains.  The former policeman-turned lawyer emphasized to the jurors Mehserle’s extensive firearms training over his two year career as opposed to the 6 hours of Taser training provided to Mehserle in early December 2008.  
     

    Using the screen shots, Rains began to walk the jurors through the defense’s timeline of what happened on New Year’s morning 2009.
     

    Rains stated that the evidence will show that both Grant and Bryson attempted to assault officers Pirone and Mehserle and that Mehserle’s shooting of Grant consisted of movements consistent with pulling a Taser out of holster.
     

    After the defense laid out their opening statement the prosecution began to call its first few witnesses: the D.A’s audio and video technician, and two of the five BART passengers who filmed what happened at the Fruitvale BART station.
     

    Testimony resumes in the case on June 11 at 8:30 a.m.

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 06/11/10
  • 6/11/10
  • A Cursory Look at Some of the Issues of the Johannes Mehserle Trial

     Thandisizwe Chimurenga

     OPINION

     

    The People v. Mehserle began in Los Angeles on June 10, 2010.  The waters have been somewhat muddied, however, due to much of the mainstream media coverage surrounding this case.

    FIVE:  MEDIA MATTERS

     

    The court system strives to make sure that jurors are fair, impartial, objective, and are capable of using reason and critical thinking skills.

    Should that fail however, attempting to influence the populace before they even get into the courtroom is a nice back-up plan.

    Michael Rains, attorney for Johannes Mehserle, has been under a gag order in the case since last year, but one shrewd way he gets around the order is to play to the press through his legal motions.  The issues he chooses to focus on and the reasons why make for great copy and are thus carried to the populace with very little effort.

    Media as Judge

    Some news organizations insist on calling the proceedings the “2nd degree murder trial” of Johannes Mehserle (http://bit.ly/bL8nhZ, http://bit.ly/c1apLP, http://bit.ly/9zoGjr, http://bit.ly/9nCyFg, http://bit.ly/aZIZyF).

    The Alameda County District Attorney has charged Mehserle with murder but has not specified what degree – what type of murder – he should be charged with.

    Murder in the second-degree – or outright acquittal – is what Michael Rains wants the jury to choose.  Rains doesn’t want the jury to convict his client of murder in the first-degree, or voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter. 

    Rains submitted a motion to the court outlining his desires for the jury, however, regardless of what it is that Rains wants, the judge has not yet ruled on this request.  More than likely, the judge will not rule on the request until all evidence has been presented in the case.

    At that time the judge will decide to instruct the jury, based on the evidence presented, on what they should convict Mehserle of; it could be all five options, or it could be as Rains has requested, or it could be something other. 

    It is, therefore, factually inaccurate for a news organization to state what type of trial this is when the District Attorney hasn’t, or before the judge in the trial has even made his decision.

    Media as Cheerleader

    Pre-trial hearings are held in order to determine the types of evidence, lines of questioning, types of witness testimony, etc., that can be used when the trial actually gets started.  Instead of gambling on certain items or issues being ruled inadmissible or being overruled during the trial, it is one avenue for attorneys to ensure that their game plan is part and parcel of the trial.

    Rains’ pre-trial motions in this case make various requests; one motion asked the judge to instruct witnesses for the prosecution to call his client “Officer” Mehserle; in the same motion Rains asked that witnesses be instructed not to call Oscar Grant a “victim.”

    One motion requested that Oscar Grant’s arrest report from a 2006 encounter be entered into evidence. The judge ruled that a portion of the report be allowed as evidence and that the rest was not relevant.

    Some media reports on the judge’s decision in these matters read almost like a sporting competition (http://bit.ly/9e5HCU, http://bit.ly/cSLtvA, http://bit.ly/ciJ7Mw).

    The news reports referenced directly above refer to the testimony of a video expert and calling John Burris as a witness.  Burris is the attorney for the Grant family and others in a civil suit against BART. 

    Use of an expert by the defense is not an unreasonable request.  In this case however a motion was never made requesting such.

    Michael Schott, the forensic video image analyst who will testify for the defense, was listed on the Defense’s List of Potential Witnesses. 

    As reflected in the Minute Order of the court (i.e, the court’s notes):

    “Defense request to call an expert on videos is heard.  The court will allow jurors to get some assistance as long as it does not cross the line into advocacy.  The people are against allowing interpretation of the video.  The court will have a further hearing in advance of trial on this issue on June 1, 2010.”

    In other words, the prosecution wanted to ensure that the defense’s video expert would not “tell the jurors what they are seeing,” but would only tell the jurors his opinion of what he saw on the videos.  A hearing was called and Schott was sworn in to give “sample testimony” as to what he would testify to during the trial.  After some grilling by the District Attorney, the court was satisfied and stated that Schott could testify with some restrictions.

    Burris’ name appeared on the Defense’s List of Potential Witnesses.  Burris felt this was an attempt both silence his criticisms of Mehserle and BART and to keep him from being and observer in the courtroom during the trial. 

    Burris submitted a motion to have his name removed from the witness list and Burris’ motion was denied. The court ruled his name would remain on the list however, he may not be called as a witness, and the judge found that a gag order imposed last year on the defense and the prosecution should extend to both Burris and BART’s civil trial attorneys.

    The gag order imposed on Burris comes five months after Rains initially brought it up.

    Rains’ motion didn’t “win” because he did not submit a motion – Burris did.

    Losses

    Most recently, on June 9, 2010, the judge denied three motions that Rains had filed just prior to the opening of the trial.  While most news reports stated the motions were denied few, if any, appeared to continue their ‘sporting match’ theme with Rains as loser.

    Rains submitted a motion asking the court to exclude former officer Anthony Pirone’s use of a racial slur against Oscar Grant.  Although Rains states in his motions that Grant first used the racial slur against Pirone, he still hoped to exclude it, arguing that it would be prejudicial to his client.  The court ruled that it was part and parcel of what happened on the platform and should be allowed.

    Five videos of Oscar Grant’s shooting by Johannes Mehserle are known to exist and have been compiled by both the defense and the prosecution. Rains submitted a motion requesting that only the defense’s video compilation be allowed in court, stating that the prosecution’s had errors in it.  The judge ruled that was a matter better left to the jury.

    Finally, Rains wanted to exclude the testimony of Sophina Mese, girlfriend of Oscar Grant and mother of their 4-year old child, from the court.  Rains had argued that her testimony would be redundant and that the prosecution wanted her included to evoke sympathy for Oscar Grant.

    In response, the prosecution stated that Ms. Mesa’s testimony would not be redundant; it would in fact offer additional testimony that Oscar Grant was afraid of Tasers.  Complimentary to that testimony is the prosecution’s introduction of evidence by Oscar Grant himself:  Grant took a cell phone picture of Johannes Mehserle pointing his Taser at him.

    No wonder Rains wanted Mesa excluded from the trial.

    The Hon. Robert Perry, judge in this case, says that court will be held 5 days a week, from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.

    The mainstream media will probably be putting in a little more time than that; they usually do.

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 06/11/10
  • 6/10/10
  • Photo of Mehserle holding Taser surfaces as judge denies defense motions to exclude evidence from trial

    The prosecution in the second-degree murder trial of former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle will be allowed to present into evidence a cell phone photo Oscar Grant took which depicts Mehserle holding a Taser moments before pulling out his gun and shooting Grant.

    The image can be presented due to a ruling Judge Robert Perry made to permit Grant’s girlfriend, who received the photo, to testify.

    Deputy District Attorney David Stein said the photo was evidence Mehserle must have “re-holstered his Taser, then taken out his firearm” before shooting Grant in the back — thus demonstrating that he knew the difference between his gun and his Taser.

    The defense intends to argue that Mehserle mistook his gun for a Taser and shot Grant accidentally as a result.

    At today’s hearing, defense attorney Michael Rains admitted Mehserle used a Taser on Grant to get him onto the ground, before officers proceeded to kick him.

    “It’s important to understand that this picture was taken after Grant had been physically assaulted by the police — specifically by Officer Pirone,” Stein said. “The picture clearly shows the defendant with a Taser out, pointing it at Grant.”

    Judge Robert Perry also struck down three key motions the defense filed in an attempt to exclude key pieces of evidence from the case.

    In one, which defense attorney Michael Rains filed June 5, Rains argued Sophina Mesa, Grant’s girlfriend and the mother of his child, should not be permitted to testify because other witnesses could provide the same information.

    But Stein argued in a rebuttal filed Monday that Mesa could provide unique insight into Grant’s state of mind, since he called her on the phone while detained on the Fruitvale platform by BART officers. Stein also wrote that Mesa would shore up evidence from other witnesses whose credibility Rains would “undoubtedly attempt to attack.”

    Mesa has said Grant sounded “nervous” and “scared” on the phone and is expected to testify that he would have been frightened by Mehserle pointing a Taser at him minutes before the shooting.

    Rains said that such descriptions of Grant’s emotional state would amount to hearsay, but Judge Perry said her testimony is still relevant to the case.

    Because Mesa is in possession of the cell phone photo Grant took of Mehserle, it is expected to be entered into evidence when she testifies.

    In a separate ruling, Judge Perry said Stein will be permitted to present at trial evidence of former BART Police Officer Tony Pirone’s use of a racial slur about a minute before Mehserle shot Grant.

    Rains argued “there is no indication that Mr. Mehserle heard the statement,” and permitting it into evidence is therefore irrelevant in determining Mehserle’s state of mind.

    Rains said two of Grant’s friends present during the incident, Carlos Reyes and Jackie Bryson, made statements to Stein that they had not heard the statement either. But Judge Perry said the court reviewed audio of the recorded incident and heard the slur used multiple times.

    Judge Perry said to omit the slur would be “misleading.”

    “I agree with [the prosecution] that the jury should be allowed to determine” if the slur contributed to the chaotic environment on the platform and whether that affected Mehserle’s judgment, he said.

    Grant’s aunt Tracie Cooper was particularly happy to see the statement allowed into evidence. “The judge was more favorable today,” she said.

    Lastly Judge Perry said the prosecution’s synchronized video compilation of the incident, which compares different videos side by side, would be allowed into evidence.

    On Monday Rains submitted a motion to omit the prosecution’s video, writing that not only did the image quality become compromised in the process, but “some of the key images are so badly out of synchronization [...] that they no longer comprise a reasonable representation of the true events.”

    Instead, he wanted only the video prepared by his own expert, forensic image analyst Michael Schott, to be allowed into evidence.

    Various cell phone videos filmed by passengers on the platform have been used by both sides to create two distinct video compilations.

    “You’re going to have dueling synchronized videos,” Judge Perry said. “Experts are going to differ [...] as much I hate to go there I think we’re going to have a battle of the experts.”

    Jack Bryson, whose sons Nigel and Jackie Bryson were detained on the platform alongside Grant, said he was happy with Judge Perry’s rulings. “Today was a good day. The truth is coming into the trial,” he said.

    Opening statements are scheduled for tomorrow, June 10, in Los Angeles, where the trial has been moved due to concerns over whether Mehserle could receive a fair trial in Alameda County.

    Continuing coverage of the People v. Mehserle trial  is funded in part through Spot.Us. Visit our special trial news page and help fund this project.

    Beat reporters Tashina Manyak and Jennifer Courtney reported from Los Angeles. Contact Tashina Manyak at tmanyak@californiabeat.org.

     

    Posted by The Campanil on 06/10/10
  • 6/9/10
  • Jury Set, Defense Seeking to Exclude Video in Mehserle Murder Trial

     What began as a two-day selection process ended Tuesday afternoon with eight women and four men being sworn in as jurors in the murder trial of Johannes Mehserle. The former transit officer is charged with the New Year’s Day 2009 killing of Oscar Grant III, 22, at an Oakland subway station.


    The jury, composed of five Latina and three white women and two Latino and two white men, will hear opening statements in the case on Thursday, June 10.

    During the selection process, which began at 8:30 a.m. and ran until approximately 4 p.m., three African-Americans were excused by the court and the remaining two African-Americans in today’s juror pool were struck by the defense.

    Many of today’s potential jurors had ties to law enforcement either through friendship, past service or through relatives.

    Both the prosecution and the defense were allowed a total of 20 peremptory challenges each for the jurors and six each for the alternates.

    Some in the courtroom said they were stunned by the lack of black jurors in the case.

    Phyllis Jackson said “it was a chilling day” for Los Angeles. 

    “Jury selection here banishes all Black people like the recent Equal Justice Initiative report found that southern courts do, while allowing the jury to be stacked with people who have friends, family and businesses involved with law enforcement,” she said.

    The Southern California college professor came to court to observe the proceedings, which are open to the public.

    Tracy Cooper, who came from Oakland to observe the proceedings, agreed. 

    “Out of the five intelligent Black people they had in that jury pool, I can’t believe that not one of them was selected to serve on the jury,” she said. “Some of the people they decided to keep, there were too many who favored police officers.”

    Jack Bryson Sr. said that the judge was giving Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, the trial on a platter. 

    “If (Wednesday's) motions go (Rains’) way, there’s no hope for justice,” he said.

    Court will resume at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning to hear three motions submitted by Rains. 

    Two motions that were filed last week seek to either exclude Sophina Mesa, girlfriend of Oscar Grant and mother of their 4-year old daughter, from testifying or allow Rains to cross-examine her about Oscar Grant’s probation and parole status.  The other motion seeks to exclude former transit officer Tony Pirone’s utterance of a racial slur at Oscar Grant.

    A motion filed Monday with the court seeks to exclude the synchronized video of the events of Jan. 1, 2009, submitted by the District Attorney and requests an evidentiary hearing.  

    Mehserle’s defense has also prepared and submitted a synchronized video to the court.

    Opening statements in the trial are set for Thursday, June 10.

    Follow the Mehserle trial on Twitter @OscarGrantTrial.

     

     

    Coverage of the Mehserle trial is done in collaboration with partners including  New American MediaKALWPlaceblogger and Mission Local and Spot.us.

     

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 06/09/10
  • 6/7/10
  • California vs. Mehserle: Historic Oakland Trial Begins in LA This Week

    Mehserle_on_trial_larger_featured_image

    The jury in the People of the State of California v. Johannes Mehserle will be whittled down to 18 people this week. 

    The process of voir dire is scheduled to conclude Wednesday June 9 by choosing 12 jurors and 6 alternates.  Those individuals will hear opening arguments in the historic case the following day, June 10.

    The case is the first time in California history that a law enforcement officer will be tried for murder committed in a line of duty shooting.

    Last week, approximately 200 prospective jurors reported for duty at the Clara Shortridge Fritz Criminal Justice Center. They were informed by Judge Robert Perry of the need to ensure “a fair trial for both sides … without bias, sympathy, emotion or prejudice,” said Perry.

    About half of the prospective jurors were excused primarily due to financial hardship.  Many of those also cited their own biases as cause for bring excluded, stating they had already formed an opinion about the case.

    One woman said her reason for being biased was because she had “a problem with people with guns and a little bit (with) authority.” 

    The woman’s bias became more pronounced as she told the court that the defendant looked like “a jarhead,” and that she was tired of all these “brown babies” being killed.

    Some others said their bias was due to having friends or family members in law enforcement.  One young man said he that he could not “separate what happens to cops when they go to jail.”  

    “You wouldn’t vote ‘not guilty’ if you thought he was guilty, would you?” Perry asked.   The man answered no but he was also excused from service.

    David Stein, representing the Alameda County District Attorney, Michael Rains, attorney for Mehserle and Perry will query the remaining potential jurors based on their answers to the 15-page questionnaire that was distributed last week.

    Both the prosecution and the defense will have a total of 52 peremptory challenges that may be used to strike prospective jurors from the pool. 

    The number of African-Americans in the jury pool is very small but there is a very large representation of Latinos.

    Burris Comes Under Gag Order

    During pretrial hearings and through jury selection Judge Robert Perry has stressed his intent to have the case judged on the facts presented in court.   “We’re going to go through a lot of trouble to have the jurors judge this case on its merits,” he said.  So as not to have what he termed a “side show atmosphere” in the trial, Perry ruled on June 1 that John Burris, attorney for the family of Grant, will have a gag order extended to him.

    Rains had tried unsuccessfully at a January preliminary hearing to have the gag order, first imposed on the prosecution and the defense by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson last year, extended to Burris and the attorneys for BART in the civil trial.

    Although Perry did not extend the order at that time, he reversed himself last week, because he said he had not been aware that Burris was the attorney for about five young men who are scheduled to be called as witnesses in the case.

    Burris’ attorney, Carl Douglas of Beverly Hills urged the court “against the rare act” of extending the gag order so that Burris could remain “a zealous advocate for his clients.”

    Attorney James Simmons says he is not surprised that the judge ruled Burris should come under the gag order.  “It does not appear to be an abuse of the judge’s discretion,” said the Los Angeles-based criminal defense attorney. “His clients are involved in this trial; if they were not witnesses, there would be no justification for a gag order.”

    Burris will be allowed to be present in the courtroom and observe the trial, but both he and the attorneys for BART in the civil trial are now barred from speaking with media.

    Expert Video Testimony to Be Allowed

    Judge Perry also ruled last week that Michael Schott, a forensic video analyst, could testify as an expert witness for the defense.  

    During a May 7 pre-trial hearing Perry said he was concerned that Schott’s testimony would include declarative statements and cross the line into advocacy.  Deputy D.A. Stein also registered his concern about Schott’s possible testimony.  “You can’t see it here, but let me tell you what is happening,” he cited as an example.

    Schott, whose background includes being a crime scene photographer in the 1970s, took the stand last week and both Rains and Stein questioned him as to his proposed testimony.

    The videos that have been entered into evidence for the trial include one from a BART surveillance camera at the Fruitvale Station and five from individuals who were present at the scene.

    Some of the sample testimony that Schott gave included his interpretation of what BART officers were doing and what Oscar Grant and others were doing in the video.

    At one point during his sample testimony, Schott testified that a video showed Oscar Grant kneeing or attempting to knee former officer Tony Pirone in the midsection, and another video showed Jackie Bryson attempting to strike former officer Mehserle.

    Stein countered that Schott’s testimony was only his interpretation and Perry clarified this was the case.

    Still, the testimony of Schott was a cause for alarm for Jack Bryson, Sr.

    “What is it that Michael Rains and Judge Perry see that no one else sees in this video?” asked Bryson Sr.   “If my son had tried to hit that cop, don’t you think he would have arrested him?  He was never charged; he was detained six hours but he was never charged with anything.”

    Bryson Sr. echoed the earlier words of Judge Perry. “This judge is supposed to be there to make sure that Oscar also gets a fair trial.”

    The trial is expected to last through the month of June.

     

    Follow the coverage here and at Oscar Grant Trial on Twitter. 

     Coverage of the Mehserle trial is done in collaboration with partners including  New American MediaKALWPlaceblogger and Spot.us

     

    DONATE TO SUPPORT THIS PROJECT!

    If you'd like to support this project, you can donate here. If you are a media organization that would like to repost this content, get in touch with editor@oaklandlocal.com

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 06/07/10
  • 6/7/10
  • Links to Coverage of the Mehserle Trail

    Mehserle: what was he thinking

    Paul Rosynsky from mercurynews.com finally poses the question everyone is wondering… what was Mehserle thinking? Mehserle has already admitted he was not acting in self-defense and is basing his case on the argument that he mistook the gun for a tazor. So the question the court is asking, “Can the state supply proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mehserle formed an intent to use the gun as opposed to his Taser," said Defense Attorney Michael Rains in the article.

     But the question everybody else is asking is – Really? 


    2 cities await start of BART shooting trial

    Laurie Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School and a former federal prosecutor for the Mehserle trail, Defense attorney Michael Rains, Bay Area Defense Attorney Michael Cardoza, and even Grant’s family talk about their different predictions for the trail starting this week, but all agree only time will tell.


    The Killer Cop Who Shot Oscar Grant Had a History of Violence on the Job- Oscar Grant Updates 6/1/10

    Youtube video claims Mehserle had a history of violence  


     Are Cameras New Guns?

    Should the videos and camera shots taken of BART police the night of Oscar Grant’s murder be legal in the court of law? As three states have already made filming police officers illegal and others are heading in the same direction, some people have stopped to question public role in accountability. 


    Attorneys Start Jury Selection in Johannes Mehserle Trial


    Jury Selection Begins For BART Police Officer Accused of Murdering Oscar Grant 

    Huffington Post releases questions the potential jurors were asked during the selection process last week for the Oscar Grant murder trail. Actual document found  here.    


    Take the Mehserle Questionnaire

    NBC launched a questionnaire to see how Bay Area locals reacted to the news that the Mehserle trail was moved to Los Angeles. 43% said they were furious, 43% are intrigued, and 14% are thrilled 

    Posted by Kristy Pyke on 06/07/10
  • 6/2/10
  • Extraordinary steps taken to protect jurors as Mehserle trial begins

    Steven Luo

    California Beat

    June 2, 2010

    LOS ANGELES — Jury selection in the second-degree murder trial of former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot unarmed passenger Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009, began this morning amidst extraordinary steps to protect the privacy of jurors.

    After a brief conversation with the attorneys on pre-trial matters, Judge Robert Perry began the jury selection process by reminding the audience to refrain from showing emotions in court or trying to contact jurors, saying that he intended the trial to be a “quiet and dignified search for the truth.”

    Jurors were then brought into the courtroom in groups of 50 via a back entrance, to prevent anyone from seeing them enter.

    Judge Perry spoke to each group for approximately 15 minutes, introducing the case and informing the potential jurors of their responsibilites, with particular emphasis on the prohibition against jurors doing their own research or reading or viewing media accounts of the case.

    The evidence presented in court is subject to legal standards to ensure the fairness of the trial, Perry explained, as he warned jurors that violating this rule would result in a mistrial.

    He also explained the unusual measures being taken to prevent the identities of jurors from being revealed during the trial.

    Attorneys in the case will not be given the jurors’ names, instead referring to them by badge numbers that the jurors will wear during court sessions.

    Jurors will be “partially sequestered” during the trial — meaning that they will be kept in seclusion during breaks, but allowed to go home at night.

    “We’re going to serve you lunch!” Perry said, noting that this was the first time he had seen that in a judicial career spanning more than 600 trials.

    Jurors will be told to park in a “secret location” and will be bused to the courthouse from there by sheriff’s deputies, to provide additional privacy.

    The extraordinary measures to protect jurors’ identities are being taken to prevent anyone from trying to influence jury members, Perry said.

    “There was a great deal of publicity about this case” in the Bay Area, Perry told jurors, adding that the trial was moved to Los Angeles “out of concern that there had been so much publicity [...] that it would be difficult” to select an impartial jury in Alameda County.

    About half of the 100 jurors brought into the courtroom during the morning session were excused for one reason or another, most due to the financial hardship of serving on a jury for a trial that is expected to last three to four weeks.

    The remainder filled out a jury questionnaire including questions on race relations, which will be reviewed by the attorneys in the case.

    Mehserle is white, while Grant was black, and the racial overtones of the case mean that the racial makeup of the jury could well have an influence on the outcome.

    “12 white guys — that wouldn’t look good,” said Kenneth Johnson, Grant’s uncle, when asked about how the racial makeup of the jury might affect the trial. “12 black guys — that wouldn’t look good either,” he told the Beat, saying that a racially diverse jury would be the best outcome.

    100 more potential jurors will be brought into the court during the afternoon session today, with the process continuing into tomorrow if the judge’s target of about 100 questionnaires filled out is not met.

    Jury selection then continues June 8, when jurors who filled out questionnaires will be brought back for questioning by the attorneys. A jury is expected to be in place in time for the scheduled start of arguments on June 10.

    Contact Steven Luo at sluo@californiabeat.org.

    Posted by The Campanil on 06/02/10
  • 6/1/10
  • Grant family lawyer Burris under gag order; defense video expert to testify

    By Steven Luo

    California Beat

    June 1, 2010

    LOS ANGELES – The judge in the second-degree murder trial of Johannes Mehserle, the former BART Police officer who shot unarmed passenger Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009, ruled today that the testimony of a key defense expert witness would be allowed at trial.

    Judge Robert Perry also ruled that Grant family attorney John Burris is subject to the gag order covering trial participants, even though he is unlikely to be called as a witness in the trial.

    Perry also extended the gag order to include lawyers for BART who are representing the agency in the civil case against Grant’s family.

    At today’s hearing, Michael Schott, an expert on forensic image analysis, gave testimony in order for the judge to decide on whether it would be allowed at trial.

    Questioned by defense attorney Michael Rains about a video, widely shown in the media, which appears to show former BART Police Officer Tony Pirone punching Grant in the face minutes before the shooting, Schott said that the apparent punch was actually a light  reflecting off Grant’s forehead.

    He referred to what he said was video taken from a different angle at the same instant, which appears to show Pirone’s open hand near Grant’s head.

    Schott also presented video frames which he said showed that Grant’s left shoulder was moving up from the platform at the time of the shot.

    Prosecutor David Stein argued that Schott’s testimony on the interpretation of the video was inadmissible at trial, saying that an expert witness should not be allowed to say “trust me” about the contents of a video that the jury could interpret for itself, especially since most people are exposed to video “everyday.”

    The judge, however, disagreed.  ”I found his testimony to be very helpful,” Perry said, adding that he believed some of Schott’s testimony could actually be helpful to the prosecution.

    Schott’s testimony only shows “the police side” of the story, Grant family member Daryl Johnson told the Beat after the hearing.  Schott is “working to protect” Mehserle, Johnson said, saying he was “disappointed that [Schott's] opinion was admitted.”

    Cephus Johnson, Grant’s uncle, said at a a press conference after the hearing that Rains is “causing all these distractions.”  He said the key fact remained that Grant “was lying face down” when Mehserle drew his weapon and shot him.

    Notably silent at the post-hearing press conference was Grant family attorney John Burris, who was placed under the gag order covering trial participants at the hearing.

    Carl Douglas, the high-profile lawyer representing Burris at the hearing, argued that Burris was “simply a member of the public” with regards to this trial, and said a move to gag him would be “unusual.”

    But Perry said that Burris was representing “so many” of the witnesses in the trial that he shouldn’t be allowed to make “public pronouncements” regarding it.

    Perry also extended the gag order to the lawyers defending BART against the $50 million civil suit brought by Burris on behalf of the Grant family.

    Jury selection begins tomorrow in Los Angeles, where the trial has been moved due to concerns regarding whether Mehserle could receive a fair trial in Alameda County.

    Opening arguments in the case are expected June 10.

    Beat Reporters Steven Luo and James Keith reported from Los Angeles. Contact Steven Luo at sluo@californiabeat.org.

    Posted by The Campanil on 06/01/10
  • 5/29/10
  • Grant family attorney asks Mehserle judge to block defense testimony request

    By Steven Luo

    California Beat

    March 28, 2010

     

    The attorney for BART shooting victim Oscar Grant’s family has filed a request to be removed from the potential witness list of the defense for Johannes Mehserle, the former BART Police officer charged with second-degree murder in the shooting.

    Mehserle’s defense attorney, Michael Rains, had asked to subpoena Grant family attorney John Burris, saying that Burris could provide “testimony concerning threats or intimidation” of witnesses who “may be reluctant to give testimony which would ostensibly be helpful to Mr. Mehserle and harmful to Mr. Grant.”

    At a Feb. 5 news conference, Burris blasted BART for disclosing the personal information of some of his clients who are potential witnesses in Mehserle’s trial, saying that the disclosure potentially endangered his clients’ well-being.

    According to California Beat legal analyst Preston Thomas, any knowledge of threats to Burris’ clients is information the defense could potentially use during the trial to hold the witnesses he represents to the stories they previously told.

    But Burris said that he was speaking in “general terms about the possibility” that his clients could be labeled as snitches, and that he had heard of “no specific threats” to his clients when he made those statements.

    “I don’t have any relevant evidence” for the defense, Burris said.

    While Burris said Rains’ subpoena request had been denied by the court, he remains on the list of potential witnesses for the defense.

    “I want my name to be removed,” he said, in part because as long as he remains on the witness list, it’s possible he may be covered under the gag order which prevents trial participants from sharing information with reporters.

    When asked whether he believed Rains had made his request in order to silence him, Burris said it "feels like it."

    Burris has so far been outspoken in his criticism of BART and Mehserle in the media.

    Burris has hired attorney Carl Douglas, who worked with Johnnie Cochran on O.J. Simpson’s defense, to represent him when his request is heard at a pre-trial hearing June 1 in Los Angeles, where the trial has been moved due to concerns about whether Mehserle could get a fair trial in Alameda County.

    Contact Steven Luo at sluo@californiabeat.org.

    Posted by The Campanil on 05/29/10
  • 5/28/10
  • Prosecution may have Pirone extradited to testify in Mehserle trial

    By Tashina Manyak May 27, 2010   The prosecution in the trial of Johannes Mehserle, the former BART Police officer charged with second-degree murder for the New Year’s Day 2009 shooting of passenger Oscar Grant, has filed a request to compel former BART Police Officer Tony Pirone, who now lives in North Carolina, to travel to Los Angeles to testify in the case.

    In the request, dated May 4 and made public this week, prosecutor Scott Jackson calls Pirone a “necessary and material” witness for the prosecution’s case and requests that he be present between June 7 and June 25.

    Citing Pirone’s “hostility towards the prosecution in this case,” Jackson asks for an “attendance hearing” to be held in North Carolina, and says that the prosecution will ask for his extradition if he does not appear.

    Pirone was on duty at the Fruitvale BART station on New Year’s Day 2009, when Mehserle shot Oscar Grant.

    Cell phone videos recorded by onlookers depict Pirone striking Grant and using a racial epithet prior to the shooting, making him a controversial figure in the case.

    Pirone’s lawyer Bill Rappaport has argued that both actions were defensive moves, claiming the officer struck Grant only after Grant himself had become violent and that he had only parroted the racial slur after Grant had said it.

    Grant family attorney John Burris has called Pirone one of the primary aggressors in the case, claiming the former BART officer’s actions heightened tensions and may have led to the killing.

    Pirone was fired by BART in April after a third party independent report recommended that he be terminated for his actions on Jan. 1, 2009. The former officer gave the initial order to arrest Grant before the fatal shooting incident.

    Pirone also appears on the defense’s witness list for the trial. His testimony is expected to be crucial in establishing the events leading up to the shooting and Mehserle’s state of mind.

    A final pre-trial hearing in the case will be held June 1 in Los Angeles, where the trial has been moved due to concerns about whether Mehserle could receive a fair trial in Alameda County.  Judge Robert Perry will rule on a motion by Grant family attorney John Burris to strike him from the defense witness list, and will decide how much, if any, of the testimony of defense video expert Michael Schott will be permitted at trial.

    Jury selection in the case begins June 2, with opening arguments expected on June 10.

    Filings in this case are available from the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s website.

    Beat Reporter Steven Luo contributed to this story. Contact Tashina Manyak at tmanyak@californiabeat.org.

    Posted by The Campanil on 05/28/10
  • 5/28/10
  • Final Rulings Expected; Burris Seeks Relief, Pirone’s Presence Requested

    Update on the Johannes Mehserle Trial

    Thandisizwe Chimurenga

    NEWS REPORT

    This is in collaboration with partners including Oakland LocalNew American MediaKALWPlaceblogger and more.

     

    What may be the final pre-trial hearing for Johannes Mehserle, charged with the murder of 22-year old Oscar Grant, will take place Tuesday, June 1, at 9 am in downtown Los Angeles.  At that time Judge Robert Perry is scheduled to rule on a motion requesting that attorney John Burris be removed from the list of potential witnesses that the defense intends to call during the trial. 

    Burris is the attorney for the family of Oscar Grant, Grant’s 4-year old daughter, and several young men in a multi-million dollar civil suit against the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency (BART).  The young men were present on the Fruitvale Subway Station platform on the morning of January 1, 2009, when Mehserle shot the unarmed Grant in the back.  

    Rains filed a motion to “Compel Attendance of Witnesses” with the court on May 11, asking that subpoenas be served on John Burris and six other individuals.  Rains states in the motion that:

     “Burris is an attorney who represents some of the individuals who were involved in this incident … Mr. Burris previously held a press conference in which he indicated that the individuals he represents may be reluctant to give testimony which would ostensibly be helpful to Mr. Mehserle and harmful to Mr. Grant concerning many of the events which occurred on the platform …” .

    As of this writing a subpoena has not been served on Burris however, Carl Douglas, Burris’ Beverly Hills-based attorney, says rather than waiting for a subpoena to be issued and then file a motion to quash, they have decided on this course of action. 

    Burris has stated on many occasions that he believes Rains is attempting to silence him by calling him as a witness and Douglas concurs.  “Generally, witnesses are excluded from being inside of a courtroom before they testify in a proceeding, and Mr. Burris wants to be present in the courtroom to monitor the trial because several of his clients are witnesses.  This is a backdoor attempt to have Mr. Burris excluded, said Douglas.”

    “We also think this is an attempt to have Mr. Burris gagged.  When Mr. Burris speaks about matters relating to the civil suit, it is always to the detriment of Mr. Rains’ client, so Mr. Rains want to shut Mr. Burris up.  And Mr. Burris will not go quietly.” 

    Former BART officer Tony Pirone, who was fired from the agency in April along with former officer Marysol Domenici, is also listed as a potential witness for the defense. 

    Although Pirone’s name was not listed on Rains’ request for subpoenas to appear, it was the subject of the Alameda County District Attorney’s “Proceeding to Compel the Attendance of an Out of State Witness.”

    The document, filed with the court on May 4, listed Pirone as a “material witness” whose presence would be needed in court in Los Angeles “from the 7th day of June, 2010, until the 25th day of June, 2010,” and characterized him as having “hostility towards the prosecution in this case.” 

    Media reports quote William Rapoport, Pirone’s attorney, as saying that the former officer still resides in California; that he is not hostile to the prosecution and that he will be in attendance at the trial.

    “Pirone voluntary accepted a subpoena from an inspector in the district attorney's office on [May 25],” and, “Pirone also accepted a subpoena from Mehserle's lawyer, Michael Rains,” according to the Bay City News Service.

    The court will also hear on June 1 a motion related to the conditional examination of Michael Schott, a proposed video evidence expert, also on the list of potential witnesses to be called by Rains. 

    Judge Perry has yet to issue his ruling on the defense’s motion regarding the issuance of instructions on homicide to the jury. The defense is asking the court to instruct the jury to either convict Mehserle of second-degree murder or to acquit him outright. 

    Michael Rains, attorney for Mehserle, stated in a 103-page brief to the court filed in April that the charge of first-degree murder did not apply to his client due primarily to a lack of “malice aforethought,” and that the lesser charges of involuntary and voluntary manslaughter also did not apply. 

    Perry's ruling in this matter will most likely come once all of the evidence in the case has been heard.  

    Jury selection in the trial, which is expected to last three-to-four weeks, is scheduled to begin with the distribution of juror questionnaires on June 2.  The questioning of the prospective jurors is slated for June 8, with opening statements in the trial set for June 10, according to a media advisory from the Los Angeles Superior Court. 

     

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 05/28/10
  • 5/20/10
  • Johannes Mehserle Trial Coverage Meeting next Thursday

    Grantla3_larger_featured_image

    Join the California Beat and The Campanil newspaper to learn more about and to help fund comprehensive daily news coverage of the Johannes Mehserle BART shooting trial starting in June in Los Angeles.

    Previous coverage:

    Both organizations are collaborating to provide complete trial coverage from Los Angeles. More information about this project can be found here.

    Representatives from both organizations will be there to answer your questions and solicit contributions that will help cover the costs associated with news gathering during our stay in Southern California.

    We invite our online audience members and the entire Bay Area community to join us in offering their support and suggestions at this meeting.

    It will be held at Farley’s East Coffee House on 33 Grand Avenue in Downtown Oakland next Thursday, May 27. The meeting will begin on the second floor balcony of the coffee house at 6:30pm.

    Please RSVP by joining us as a Guest on our Facebook event page, or by e-mailing us at mehserletrial@californiabeat.org.

    We look forward to seeing you there.

    A special thank you goes out to Chris and Amy Hillyard, owners of Farley’s East Coffee in Uptown Oakland, for their generosity in accommodating the Beat and our guests. Read our story about the important role Farley’s plays in the rebirth of Uptown Oakland.

    Contact the Beat at news@californiabeat.org.

    Posted by The Campanil on 05/20/10
  • 5/18/10
  • A Cursory Look at Some of the Issues of the Johannes Mehserle Trial

    The May 7 hearing for Johannes Mehserle, the former transit cop who killed Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day of 2009, settled several key issues prior to the beginning of the trial scheduled for June 2010.  The waters have been somewhat muddied, however, due to much of the media coverage surrounding this case, both before and after the May 7 hearing.   

    FOUR:  ATTORNEYS AND CLIENTS AND PRIVILEGES 

    Michael Rains, attorney for Johannes Mehserle, filed the Defense’s List of Potential Witnesses on May 11 with the court.  The list of 27 names includes several BART police officers and several eyewitnesses to Mehserle’s shooting of Oscar Grant in the back, including those who taped the incident either with cell phone cameras or other means, and John Burris, attorney for the family of Oscar Grant in their $50 million lawsuit against the Bay Area Rapid Transit district.  

    According to Burris, Rains’ listing of him as a “potential witness” in this case is “a disingenious effort on his part ... . He’s made a motions before to have me gagged; the court ruled that it has no jurisdiction over me.”  

    Why does Michael Rains want John Burris to testify as a witness for the defense?  Burris says that Rains wants him to give testimony regarding claims made to him by some of his clients.  These clients happen to be many of Oscar Grant’s friends who were with him on the Fruitvale subway platform when Mehserle shot Grant in the morning hours of January 1, 2009. 

    In a February 5, 2010 press conference, Burris scolded the media and  BART officials for “leaking” information he says was part of confidential settlement agreements between his clients and BART. The information contained testimony regarding what Mehserle said and did in the moments before he shot Oscar Grant in the back.   

    The San Francisco Chronicle ran a 305–word article on February 1, 2010 headlined, “Unexpected Help for Mehserle – Grant’s Friends” (http://bit.ly/dgRCSm), which quoted unidentified “sources” as saying that the testimony validated Mehserle’s assertion that he intended to Tase Oscar Grant.   

    During Burris’ February 5 press conference (posted on indyBay at http://bit.ly/caKWOP), he stated, amongst other things, that the testimony of Oscar Grant’s friends, “…doesn’t necessarily mean that it helps Mehserle.  … at the end of the day, whatever their interpretation of the events, that’s just their interpretation.  That’s not evidence; their observations are, but at the end of the day, we all know, there’s a big – huge – number of video tapes in this case.  Those video tapes are clear evidence of what took place that night.” 

    “It is a mischaracterization to say that they’re … ‘helping.’” 

    In addition to being angry at what he alleges are BART’s leaks of information in violation of a protection order, Burris stated that BART’s actions placed his clients “in a jeopardy situation; you have placed what appears to be snitch jackets on them, and all they were doing was responding to questions and they were responding to questions at a time when it was under a protective order.  And so then how come that was released?  Was it designed to cause these boys immediate danger?” 

    Burris claimed later that some of his clients’ family members had been told they would be seen as “snitches” for their testimony and this, Burris believes, is at the heart of Rains’ attempted move. 

    According to Burris, Rains “wants me to testify regarding claims made by these clients.  He wants me to testify if my clients told me that because he (Rains) thinks they might change their testimony. …  Any statements made are covered by attorney-client privilege, he knows that.”  

    Burris says he has not yet received a subpoena to testify.  If and when that happens Burris says his attorney will go into court “and we’ll fight the requirement to testify because of attorney-client privilege.” 

    Michael Rains also filed, as of April 30, a brief in opposition to the admitting of a Breath Alcohol Testing Form (BAT) into evidence in the trial. 

    The prosecution’s position is that the BAT form is an admission of guilt by Johannes Mehserle that he David Mastagni, the lawyer who initially represented Mehserle in the first hours after the shooting.   

    Mastagni is alleged to have made an objection to a box on the form under the heading of “Reason for Test,” which states the nature of the shooting. The objection was leveled at the reason entitled “Post Accident.”  Mastagni is also alleged to have stated elsewhere that the shooting was not accidental but intentional.  A copy of the form submitted to the court by the prosecution shows Mehserle’s signature and a handwritten box that says “Discharge of Firearm” with a checkmark next to it. 

    Michael Rains gives several arguments in his 11-page brief as to why this form should not be admitted into evidence; not the least of which is the conversation between Mastagni and Mehserle before and after the form was signed.  Rains argues that, amongst other things, anything that was said between Mastagni and Mehserle is in the realm of attorney-client privilege. 

    Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? 

    The ending to the story is that Judge Robert Perry said the BAT Form was “off the table” in terms of being admitted into this trial.  Since it was a requirement of Mehserle’s employment to take the test at the time of the incident, it cannot be used against him. 

    The fact that he resigned from BART rather than answer questions during the investigation of the shooting of Oscar Grant – also a requirement of his employment – seems to have vaporized in the wind.

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 05/18/10
  • 5/10/10
  • A Cursory Look at Some of the Issues of the Johannes Mehserle Trial

    Thandisizwe Chimurenga 

    OPINION  

    The May 7 hearing for Johannes Mehserle, the former transit cop who killed Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day of 2009, settled several key issues prior to the beginning of the trial scheduled for June 2010.  The waters have been somewhat muddied, however, due to much of the media coverage surrounding this case, both before and after the May 7 hearing.   

    ONE:  Did Johannes Mehserle “Shoot" and "Kill” Oscar Grant? 

    Johannes Mehserle did in fact shoot and kill Oscar Grant.  That is not a disputable fact; it is completely true and accurate to state such.

    Every video of the incident that has surfaced thus far shows the undisputable fact that Johannes Mehserle shot Oscar Grant.

    Mehserle’s defense is that he meant to pull his Taser and not his gun when he shot Oscar Grant, but he does not deny shooting Oscar Grant. 

    Michael Rains, Mehserle’s defense attorney states in his proposed instructional brief to the court that, “There is no doubt that Mehserle fired the shot that killed Grant …”.   

    The only doubt seems to exist in the many media reports of the case. 

    These many media reports, possibly due to confusion of legal terminology and/or the laws concerning libel, or in furtherance of society’s leanings toward giving police officers the benefit of the doubt, state that Mehserle “allegedly shot” Grant (http://bit.ly/3M0r86, http://bit.ly/bK4Kac, http://bit.ly/9dxlor, http://bit.ly/aO7pjv 

    Mehserle did in fact shoot Grant in the back as Grant was laying on his stomach on an Oakland subway platform on January 1, 2009.   

    Mehserle’s shooting and killing of Oscar Grant is not an allegation it is undisputable fact.   

    What is disputed is whether Mehserle did it on purpose or not.  If he did in fact intentionally shoot Oscar Grant that would be murder.   

    Mehserle was indicted for murder June 4, 2009 in Alameda County, California, with Superior Court Judge Don Clay ruling that Mehserle should stand trial for murder.

    The purpose of the trial, scheduled to begin with jury selection on June 1st, is to determine if Mehserle is indeed guilty of murder.  According to the Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, effective August 14, 2009 (CALCRIM): 

    Homicide is the killing of one human being by another. Murder and manslaughter are type[s] of homicide … If there is no legally valid excuse or justification, the killing is unlawful and, depending on the circumstances, the person is guilty of either murder or manslaughter. 

    There are “degrees” to murder namely, first degree or second degree.  In order to be convicted of murder in the first degree, “malice aforethought” must be present.   

    “Malice aforethought” is defined by West's Encyclopedia of American Law as, “A predetermination to commit an act without legal justification or excuse; a malicious design to injure.  An intent, at the time of a killing, willfully to take the life of a human being, or an intent willfully to act in callous and wanton disregard of the consequences to human life; but malice aforethought does not necessarily imply any ill will, spite or hatred towards the individual killed.” 

    This is what the jury will be deciding in June and until it does, this is what the media should be careful in reporting.

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 05/10/10
  • 5/10/10
  • A Cursory Look at Some of the Issues of the Johannes Mehserle Trial - 3

     A Cursory Look at Some of the Issues of the Johannes Mehserle Trial

    Thandisizwe Chimurenga

     

    OPINION

    The May 7 hearing for Johannes Mehserle, the former transit cop who killed Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day of 2009, settled several key issues prior to the beginning of the trial scheduled for June 2010.  The waters have been somewhat muddied, however, due to much of the media coverage surrounding this case, both before and after the May 7 hearing. 

    THREE:      POLICE PRIVILEGE

    Superior Court Judge Robert Perry denied Mehserle’s March 26th Motion to Augment Jury Venire.  Rains’ motion was a challenge to the California Code of Civil Procedure, section 219, which excludes uniformed law enforcement officers from serving on juries.  Rains’ stated that police officers as a class are systematically excluded from jury service whereas other “classes,” such as firemen, teachers, or social workers, are not excluded.  Rains’ argument was that the inclusion of this “class” (police officers) in the pool of potential jurors would provide a greater opportunity for Johannes Mehserle’s Constitutional (U.S. and California) right to a fair and impartial jury to be realized. 

    Rains argued in his motion that the perspective of police should be part of the jury since “the unique powers given to law enforcement officers, as well as the constraints imposed upon them and the organizational structures which define their daily existence, cannot be shared by other members of the community who are outside this profession.” 

    Judge Perry noted that “Federal agents, FBI, Homeland Security, retired officers have the types of experiences similar to Mehserle,” inferring that such persons are currently allowed to sit on juries.  As it is California law to exclude uniformed officers from jury service, the judge denied the motion.

    Rains also sought to have the court direct the District Attorney and prosecution witnesses to refer to Mehserle as “Officer Mehserle” during the trial in an April 23 motion.  Rains argued that doing so would avoid the speculation of guilt by jurors that may arise from the fact that Mehserle resigned rather than provide a statement to BART investigators of his account of the shooting of Oscar Grant.   

    Judge Perry stated that “he is no longer an officer” and “that would allow confusion,” and the defense’s motion was denied.

     And rightly so.

    Johannes Mehserle resigned from his employ with BART, through his lawyer, on the very day that he was supposed to be interviewed by BART investigators about his killing of Oscar Grant.  He subsequently fled the state and went to Nevada.  Mehserle’s defense maintains that he did not flee but left, with full knowledge of the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, and that his departure was because he feared for his safety.  This notwithstanding, he was arrested in Nevada and returned to California. 

    Defense Attorney Rains submitted a motion asking the court for a bail amount of $100,000. Mehserle’s bail was set at $3 million.  

    Such a high bail amount can only be due to the facts of committing a homicide and being a flight risk.   

    Rains’ request to have Mehserle’s bail lowered at a prior preliminary hearing was denied by Perry who stated in court that he believed Mehserle did indeed pose a flight risk. 

    Mehserle’s bail and his defense are said to have been paid for by police unions and “statewide fund for police officers.” 

    Why is Mehserle enjoying the perks of law enforcement privilege even though he resigned his position as a law enforcement officer and fled the state to avoid questioning? 

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 05/10/10
  • 5/10/10
  • A Cursory Look at Some of the Issues of the Johannes Mehserle Trial - 2

    A Cursory Look at Some of the Issues of the Johannes Mehserle Trial

    Thandisizwe Chimurenga

    OPINION

    The May 7 hearing for Johannes Mehserle, the former transit cop who killed Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day of 2009, settled several key issues prior to the beginning of the trial scheduled for June 2010.  The waters have been somewhat muddied, however, due to much of the media coverage surrounding this case, both before and after the May 7 hearing. 

    TWO:  Oscar Grant’s “Criminal Past”

    Mehserle’s defense attorney submitted to the court - as evidence of prior misconduct - an arrest report from October 15, 2006, in which Grant was charged with resisting arrest. The report states the facts leading up to and including Grant’s arrest on that date, and that the arresting officer used a Taser to subdue him.  Rains submitted this report as evidence under section 352 of California’s Evidence Code.  It is the only document that Rains sought to enter into evidence on this issue. 

    Judge Robert Perry allowed into evidence certain portions of the report and denied others.  Specifically, Perry believes that the issue of Grant’s resistance in this case should be heard by the jury, but that the other facts contained in the arrest report of October 15, 2006 are not relevant to what happened to Grant on January 1, 2009.

    In other words, a portion of one arrest report from 2006 will be mentioned during the trial.  No other arrest reports were submitted to the court by Michael Rains, Mehserle’s attorney.  Judge Perry additionally ruled that other facts related to Oscar Grant’s background/history were also not relevant and will not be allowed for discussion at the trial.

    Media headlines of this portion of the May 7 hearing reported that “Grant’s Criminal Past” (http://bit.ly/aYdUOQ) or that “Grant’s Criminal History” (http://bit.ly/9PpyVI, http://bit.ly/byQLkm) will be allowed at trial.

    While this is factually accurate, headlines stating that “Grant Resisted Arrest on Prior Occasion” “Grant’s Arrest Report” would also be just as factually accurate.

    The difference between the two sets of examples may be that one conjures up images of a hardened, career criminal, while the other may pertain to an aspect of a person’s past.

    Michael Rains stated in court that it was not his intention to cast aspersions on Mr. Grant; it would not be “appropriate” or “right,” however, Alameda County District Attorney David Stein stated that was exactly what Rains was doing and objected to the inclusion of the arrest report as evidence of a “character trait.”  

    Stein’s argument was that this one incidence of resisting arrest was more likely evidence of a “habit” and not a character trait.  Habit would be “How a person responds to a particular environment; it is not character evidence.   

    Procedurally, Stein’s argument was that Grant’s alleged resistance should be classified under Section 1105 of the California Criminal Code: 

    “Any otherwise admissible evidence of habit or custom is admissible to prove conduct on a specified occasion in conformity with the habit or custom.” 

    Judge Perry stated more than once throughout the more-than-six-hour hearing that “the nature and quality of Oscar Grant’s resistance will be a central issue in this trial.”  Elsewhere during the hearing, the judge specifically ruled that Mehserle’s defense could not refer to Grant’s resistance as unlawful, stating that this was an issue for the jury to decide. 

    The arresting officer’s words of October 15, 2006, are the only authority on this matter.  No videos – cell phone or otherwise – exist.  To question whether or not Oscar Grant actually resisted is not too far fetched. We may never truly know what the “nature and quality” of this incident was. 

    The various videos of Mehserle’s shooting of Oscar Grant available on the internet show a BART officer (subsequently identified as Tony Pirone*) with his knee on Oscar Grant’s head, neck or upper back.  At one point, observers of the video can see former officer Pirone changing position, switching to his opposite knee which is on Oscar Grant’s neck or upper back, and putting his hand on Oscar Grant’s head.  It is during the placing of Pirone’s knee that Oscar Grant’s arms appear to be moving.   

    It is not unreasonable to assume that Oscar Grant’s hands and arms are moving due to the pressure placed on his head, his neck or his upper back, by this officer who appears to be somewhat muscular and stout.*   

    This could be what is meant by Judge Perry’s statement regarding the “nature and quality of Grant’s resistance.”

    Rodney King, the motorist whose videotaped beating by LAPD officers in 1991 was seen around the world, was also accused of resisting arrest.  His continued movements to shield himself and to get away from from as many as three policemen swinging batons towards his head and upper body were considered to be resistance.   

    Is it that resistance by men of color is the crime? 

    * A quick word on marijuana

    The Alameda County D.A. submitted to the court an In Limine Motion to Exclude Evidence under Evidence Code, Section 352, of a small cup of marijuana found at the scene on the subway platform, and a “medical marijuana” card that was said to be found in Oscar Grant’s wallet.  The marijuana cup has since been identified as belonging to another individual on the subway platform; both these two pieces of evidence were excluded from the proceedings and this was not contested by Mehserle’s defense. 

    I mention it here only to underscore the possibility that Oscar Grant may have suffered from a malady that quite possibly could have been aggravated by Officer Pirone kneeling on Oscar Grant’s head, or neck, or upper back, which could also explain Grant’s alleged “resistance.”

     

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 05/10/10
  • 5/8/10
  • Was taser use justified? Critical questions in Mehserle trial

    Gavel_by_joe_gratz_larger_featured_image

    <!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:WordDocument> <w:Zoom>0</w:Zoom> <w:DisplayHorizontalDrawingGridEvery>0</w:DisplayHorizontalDrawingGridEvery> <w:DisplayVerticalDrawingGridEvery>0</w:DisplayVerticalDrawingGridEvery> <w:UseMarginsForDrawingGridOrigin /> </w:WordDocument> </xml><![endif]--> <!--{12732772033821}--</style> The judge, the prosecutor and the defense attorney in the Johnannes Mehserle trial for the killing of Oscar Grant agreed in pre-trial hearings today that much of the subtle nuance of the case would hinge on two questions:<o:p></o:p><o:p></o:p></meta> </meta> </meta> </meta> </meta> </meta> </p> <p class="MsoNormal">Was the use of a taser justified in this incident? and What was the nature and quality of Grant's resistance<span style="">  </span>on the platform and was it an issue?<o:p></o:p><o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">During the pre-trail hearing, Judge Robert Perry ruled on numerous motions introduced by the defenses attorney and the prosecution. Among the rulings today:<o:p></o:p><o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span style="">    </span>* Oscar Grant can be called the victim or the subject, or the detainee but cannot be referred to as a murder victim, or a parolee.<span style="">  </span>He can be called Mr. Grant, or Oscar Grant.  The judge said he generally did not like first names to be used but would give some leeway in that some witness who may testify may have been friends of Grant.<o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span style="">    </span>* Because Johannes Mehserle is no longer an officer, calling him one would create confusion. His honorific will be Mr.<o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span style="">    </span>* Witnesses will not be allowed to say Grant was murdered, but they can describe what they saw.<o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span style="">    </span>* T-shirts and buttons, etc will not be allowed in the court room during the trial. There will be no noises, no showing displeasure, etc.<o:p></o:p><o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Perry expressed a preference to see one compiled video as part of the trial, rather than a compilation of six such videos, and also saidt he will will decide at a later date whether Rains can call a video expert as part of Meherle's defense.<o:p></o:p><o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span style=""> </span>Perry also said he would prohibit either side from introducing evidence of a sexual relationship between Tony Pirone and Marysol Domenici, the two officers on the scene with Mehserle, both of whom were recently fired by BART.<o:p></o:p><o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Finally, Perry said he would allow Rains to introduce evidence of an incident in San Leandro in October 2006 when Grant was arrested after some resistance but will exclude any mention of a gun that was alleged to have been in his possession, and would reserve full discussion of the incident.<o:p></o:p><o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Oakland Local continues to cover this story as it evolves. Index here. Tips & ideas to editor@oaklandlocal.com<o:p></o:p></p> <p> </p> <p><em>Gavel by Joe gratz, http://www.flickr.com/photos/joegratz/117048243/</em></p> Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 05/08/10

  • 5/7/10
  • Johannes Mehserle trial: Breaking news from pre-trial hearing

    Court_larger_featured_image

    Thandisizwe Chimurenga is in the courtroom at the May 7th pretrial hearing in Los Angeles today for  Johannes Mehserle, the former BART police officer, charged with murder in the killing of an unarmed passenger, Oscar Grant.  Chimurenga will be filing a story later today, but some highlights of the hearing include the following information:

    • The judge did not accept defense lawyer Michael Rain's request that Mehserle, who resigned from the BART force after this shooting, be addressed as Officer Mehserle.  He also denied a request to only call Oscar Grant by his name, and will allow him to be called the victim, but not the murder victim, since murder had not been proven as of yet.
    • The judge also agreed to allow expert witnesses discuss taser usage, but also heard a motion from the prosecutor that introduced the idea that even tasering Oscar Grant represented excessive force, as he was prone and face down on the platform with three officers around him.


    Thandisizwe Chimurenga  will file a full story later today. This is part of a series funded by partners including Oakland Local, New American Media, KALW and Placeblogger.

    Court, photo from morguefile.com

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 05/07/10
  • 5/6/10
  • Mehserle trial: Rains asks to remove first-degree murder conviction option; pre-trial hearing set for May 7th

    LA County Court House, morguefile.com

    A fourth and possibly final pre-trial hearing for Johannes Mehserle is scheduled for May 7 at 8:30 a.m.  At that time Judge Robert Perry is expected to issue his ruling on some or all of several briefs recently filed by both the defense and the Alameda County District Attorney’s office.

    LA County Court House, morguefile.com
    Included among those briefs is a 103-page motion on instructions for homicide cases in which Mehserle’s attorney Michael Rains wants the court to instruct the jury to either convict Mehserle of murder in the second degree or acquit him. Attorney Michael Rains, in voluminous pretrial filings, argues that his client did not commit first-degree murder and is asking a Los Angeles judge to instruct the jury In other words, Rains wants to remove the option of a first-degree murder conviction from the trial.

    Rains acknowledges in the instructional brief that the prosecution of Mehserle for a murder committed in the line of duty “is the first of its kind in California history,” and wants the court to rule on the instructions prior to the beginning of the trial as opposed to at the end, which is the usual custom, because of the unusual (i.e. historic) nature of the case.

    Rains states in the brief that neither the charges of murder in the first degree, nor the lesser offenses of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, apply to his client.  Murder in the first degree is not applicable, according to Rains, due to the absence of malice – a “conscious, intentional wrongdoing either of a civil wrong … or a criminal act … with the intention of doing harm to the victim.”

    Voluntary manslaughter is defined in the brief as “an unlawful killing caused by a willful act done with full knowledge and awareness that the person is endangering the life of another, and done in conscious disregard of that risk.”

    Rains argues that the charge of voluntary manslaughter in this case does not apply to his client because the issue of malice is diminished since 1) Grant’s killing did not occur in “the heat of passion,” and 2) Mehserle is not arguing self-defense, defined as the belief that he needed to use force to defend himself or others.

    Regarding involuntary manslaughter, defined as an “unlawful killing of a human being without malice in the commission of a lawful act … in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection,” Rains says that Mehserle’s conduct was neither negligent or reckless, i.e. “without due caution and circumspection.”

    “He wants the court to only give instructions related to murder because it is, in his estimation, the weaker case,” said James Simmons, an 18-year criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles.  “He does not want the manslaughter instruction because … more likely than not, the jury could come back with a manslaughter conviction,” Simmons said.

    Among the motions submitted by the Alameda County DA’s office is a request to submit a Breath Alcohol Form signed by Mehserle after the Grant shooting.  The prosecution argues that the Mehserle’s attorney at that time objected to the testing being described as post-accident.  The form has a written-in choice of “discharge of firearm.”

    The Alameda County DA’s remaining motions include:

    • The admitting of videos and police dispatch recordings of the shooting
    • Limiting the scope of the Defense’s expert testimony solely to the actions of Mehserle and not what other officers have done in similar situations
    • Excluding any items submitted as evidence that would suggest that Oscar Grant was a member of a gang or was in possession of marijuana at the time of the shooting.  The motions specifically cite photographs of a tattoo and the existence of a medical marijuana card said to belong to Oscar Grant

     
    How is Mehserle's attorney positioning his arguement? These motions filed by Rains offer some insights:
     

    • Asking the court to require that the District Attorney and prosecution witnesses refer to Oscar Grant by name and not as “the victim.”  Rains argues that referring to Grant as a victim “assumes a crime has been committed;”
    • Asking the court to require that the District Attorney and prosecution witnesses refer to Johannes Mehserle as Officer Mehserle. Rains argues that referring to Mehserle in this manner will be a benefit to the defense in that evidence of Mehserle’s actions of refusing to give a statement to BART investigators after the shooting and his resignation can be excluded;
    • Asking the court to require that the District Attorney admonish his witnesses not to refer to the Grant shooting as a “murder,” for legal reasons;
    • Preclude spectators from wearing buttons, ribbons or any other signs of partisanship during the trial;
    • Allowing evidence of prior misconduct by Oscar Grant and his status on probation and parole and that he had been drinking alcohol in the hours prior to the shooting which ended his life;
    • Asking the court to admit evidence that Oscar Grant had been involved in a fight on the BART train;
    •  The exclusion of evidence that former BART officers Tony Pirone and Marysol Domenici were involved in sexual relationship.  John Burris, attorney for Oscar Grant’s family in their civil suit, alleges that the sexual relationship of the two former officers contributed to their actions on the BART platform on January, 1, 2009.
    •  The exclusion of evidence that Pirone and Domenici were fired, and that an independent investigation of the Grant shooting suggested that they be fired;
    • The exclusion of evidence that Mehserle “fled to Nevada;
    •  The exclusion of evidence or testimony that Mehserle resigned h is employ with BART;
    •  Allowing expert testimony regarding training in the use of Tasers.
    Opposition to Rains’ earlier motion to have police officers serve on the jury
    See continued coverage of this topic here.

    Spot.Us is part of a coalition of media organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media and Placeblogger to fund independent coverage of the trial. If you'd like to support this project, you can donate here.
    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 05/06/10
  • 5/4/10
  • A front seat at the Mehserle murder trial

    Grant_larger_featured_image

    Listen to the audio interview of our reporter with partnering organization KALW

    It's been over a year since the tragic death of Oscar Grant.  He was shot by a BART police officer, Johannes Mehserle, on New Year's Day 2009.  The incident was caught on tape by many BART riders and sparked protests throughout the region, like one on January 7 when angry demonstrators took to the streets of Oakland and squared off against riot police.

    The Alameda County DA filed murder charges against Mehserle, and that trial is scheduled to begin on June 1 in Los Angeles.

    Reporter Thandi Chimurenga will be covering the trial for a coalition of independent media including Oakland Local and New America Media. Her reporting is funded through spot.us. She gives KALW's Holly Kernan a preview of the trial.

    Posted by Spot. Us on 05/04/10
  • 4/30/10
  • Tracking the Mehserle Trial

    Just a quick note that several more motions have made their way on to the Superior Court's website.

    Our reporter Thandisizwe is going over the new motions now. She was also recently interviewed by KALW's Crosscurrent. We will update you as the reporting continues.

     

    Posted by Spot. Us on 04/30/10
  • 3/27/10
  • Hearing for Oscar Grant shooter moves trial start date to June 1st as attorneys joust in court

    Mehserle_larger_featured_image

    The criminal trial of former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer Johannes Mehserle will begin about a week earlier than originally scheduled.  Judge Robert Perry moved the date to June 1 at a third preliminary hearing in downtown Los Angeles this afternoon, March 26, 2010.  Both the district attorney’s office and the defense hope they will be able to send the case to the jury prior to July 4 although there are no guarantees. 

    Michael Rains, attorney for Mehserle, the former BART officer who has been charged with the murder of Oscar Grant on an Oakland subway platform last year, did not make any references in open court to BART’s March 24 firing of Marysol Domenici, who was among the first officers to respond to the Fruitvale transit station. However, he did file a motion challenging the exemption of police officers from service on juries.

    Domenici’s firing had been recommended by a Bay Area law firm hired by BART to do an independent assessment of the Mehserle shooting.  Domenici’s partner, Tony Pirone, made the decision to take Grant into custody for resisting arrest. Both officers have been on paid administrative leave since the New Year’s Day shooting.  BART has not stated whether Pirone will also be terminated.

    Rains’ motion is in reference to the Code of Civil Procedure, section 219, which excludes police officers as a class from jury service. Rains argues in the motion that his client’s right to an impartial jury, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment and California’s Constitution, will be violated if the exemption stands.  The judge stated he looked forward to reading Rains’ motion but did not discuss the issue any further.

    The purpose of today’s hearing, which was scheduled in February, was to discuss a potential questionnaire for jurors in the case. The document, which was not finalized and not made available to the public, currently contains more than 130 questions and was often likened to a “psychiatric exam” during the proceedings. Judge Perry expressed his opinion to both sides that “the longer the questionnaire, the more burdensome to the jurors.” 

    Although Rains believed that some of his questions were stricken from the document, Judge Perry stated, upon closer examination, that some of them had been reworded or better worded in other parts of the document. 

    Rains was very concerned about the attitudes of potential jurors toward law enforcement and many of his proposed questions dealt with this aspect.  Perry took the liberty of adding at least one question to the mix:  “Do police officers lie?”  The judge said that he had used this question before in questionnaires and that it would be of use to flag “attitudes towards police that would be of benefit to both sides.”

    Rains also expressed concern regarding the logistics of getting witnesses for the defense to court.  Judge Perry noted that he will endorse subpoenas for witnesses who are more than 150 miles away from the location of the court proceedings.

    A fourth pretrial hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on May 7 when the court will hear a series of ‘In Limine’ motions filed by the defense.

    Note: This story by Thandisizwe Chimurenga is funded by a collaboration between Oakland Local, Spot.us, New America Media, KALW/Crosscurrents, and The Black Hour at Laney College, who are sponsoring independent coverage of the Mehserle trial.

    Posted by Thandisizwe Chimurenga on 03/27/10
 
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