Monday, June 11, 2012
Court Upholds BART Officer’s Conviction in Shooting
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The First District Court of Appeal Friday affirmed the conviction of a former Bay Area Rapid Transit District police officer for the shooting death of a man suspected of involvement in a fight on board a train.
Div. One said there was sufficient evidence to establish that Johannes Mehserle was criminally negligent. Mehserle said the shooting of Oscar Grant was an accident, that he intended only to use his taser against the suspect but grabbed and used his handgun instead.
The panel said the jury could have convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter on either of two theories, that he reached for the taser unnecessarily, or that a reasonable person would not have mistaken a handgun for a taser under the circumstances.
Mehserle shot Grant in Oakland in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009. Testimony at the trial indicated that Grant and several other passengers were detained on the platform at the Fruitvale BART Station. Witnesses said that Grant, who had been resisting arrest, was pinned down by another officer, in apparent distress, and verbally surrendered before Mehserle shot him.
They said Mehserle appeared stunned, and that Grant exclaimed “You shot me!” He died the next morning atHighland Hospital in Oakland.
The case led to protest marches in Oakland and demands for a federal civil rights investigation.
Prosecutors charged Mehserle with murder; he resigned from the department. The case was transferred to Los Angeles on a change of venue and tried before Judge Robert Perry.
The defense argued that the death was due in part to the inadequate training that Mehserle received with respect to the use of the taser. It cited six other incidents in which officers had fired handguns in the mistaken belief they had grabbed their tasers.
The defendant was convicted of the lesser charge and sentenced to two years in prison, but served the sentence in the Los Angeles County Jail away from other prisoners. He was released on parole in June of last year.
Presiding Justice James J. Marchiano said the jury properly applied the standard for criminal negligence in California:
“We find sufficient evidence that [the defendant’s] conduct of mistakenly drawing and firing his handgun instead of his taser constitutes criminal negligence under the second prong of manslaughter liability: that defendant committed a lawful act in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection―i.e., he believed he was tasing an arrestee, but mistakenly, and criminally negligently, drew and fired his handgun with lethal results.”
The case is People v. Mehserle, 12 S.O.S. 2808.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company