Thursday, June 24, 2010

Trial update of BART officer who killed suspect (with verdict)

On New Year's Day 2009, Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed unarmed civilian Oscar Grant, as the victim lay face-down on an Oakland, California train platform. It is not unreasonable to question whether or not charges would have ever been filed, had it not been for the cell-phone video taken by several witnesses and widely circulated on the internet. Prosecutors have gone ahead with a murder charge however, contending that the officer did in fact intend to shoot the suspect out of fear that he and his colleagues were losing control of the situation. Shortly after the shooting the officer resigned, and has since pled not-guilty to the charge of murder, contending that the shooting was an accident, and that he had intended to use his Taser on Mr. Grant.

There are several different clips available on Youtube showing the shooting, but here is a short one...

Because Mr. Grant was black and the accused is white, there have been considerable racial tensions stemming from the incident, which is one reason that the trial was moved to Los Angeles from the Alameda County courthouse. Another reason cited was "intense media coverage." So there we see a deliberate "brown out" of the public's right to know. But thanks to Fox News, we have this article...

Ex-BART officer got minimum amount of stun gun training weeks before he shot unarmed black man

Well kudos to Fox for even bringing us the story, but there's some slant there. First off, he didn't just "shoot" a black man, he killed him. Second, the headline is completely focused on the man's defense. Of course, this probably reflects the testimony of the day to some extent, so it's really not inordinate spin, especially for Fox, except for the fact that I have not seen any headlines from them or any other media outlet with the emphasis on the prosecution's case. Or even their take on the day's testimony. The article goes on to say that Defense attorney Michael Rains "...appeared to try to show jurors that Mehserle got the very minimum amount of training on how to use a stun gun." So right there we see that Fox is stating as a matter of fact, what is really more a matter of opinion for the defense.

Was this training not sufficient for all other officers? If police in America are so poorly trained that it excuses reckless homicide, perhaps they shouldn't be carrying guns and Tasers in the first place. Would it be a viable defense for a civilian? Let's say someone who had a pistol permit, but had little training on when and how to use their weapon. Better yet, a black civilian who had just shot and killed a cop. What defense attorney would even recommend an "it was just an accident" defense in such a case?

At the end of the day, it doesn't seem very reasonable that the officer confused his pistol with the Taser. The weapons are holstered differently, feel different when grasped,  and are carried on opposite sides of the body. Mehserle would have had to reach around his body with his dominant hand to grab the Taser weapon. Instead, he simply dropped down to the pistol at his hip, clutched the firearm with both hands, and fired.
Was it his intention to actually fire the weapon? What was he thinking? Did he perceive some threat erroneously? Was it really a cold-blooded murder? We may never know. But one thing is for certain, the negligence of this now former officer has left a man dead. So at the very least, Johannes Mehserle is just as guilty in the death of Oscar Grant as a reckless or drunken driver who kills someone on the highway.
Special thanks to the Lunaticoutpost forum, and forum member Geogal for regular updates as the story unfolds. Discussion and updates can be found here...

EDIT to add verdict:
After 6 1/2 hours of deliberation, the jury found Johannes Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter, with gun enhancement. He faces 5 to 14 years in prison. He escaped being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and murder in the second degree.

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