After two weeks of protests and “rebellion” in the streets of Oakland, CA, police have arrested Johannes Mehserle, the BART transit cop who shot and killed unarmed Oscar Grant on an Oakland train platform New Year’s Day. This is significant because this is perhaps the first time a California policeman has faced murder charges for killing someone while on duty.
Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old black man who was killed while lying flat on his stomach unarmed and restrained, has become a symbol for the racism and brutality that are endemic of police forces after his death was captured on video and circulated on Youtube.
This music video tribute by Jasiri X explains the story of Oscar Grant, but does contain somewhat graphic images of the shooting.
Follow the story at the website of Oakland activist Davey D, http://daveyd.com/
Here is a news article about the arrest.
— Several well-placed sources are telling KTVU news that a warrant was issued for former BART officer Johannes Mehserle and that the officer is now in police custody.
Mehserle was the officer involved in the New Year’s Day fatal shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant on the platform of the Fruitvale BART station.
KTVU sources say Mehserle was some distance from the Bay Area when he was taken into custody and won’t arrive at the jail Tuesday night. Published reports indicate the BART police officer was arrested in Nevada.
Another source says when he does arrive, Mehserle will be booked into the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. And yet another source tells KTVU Mehserle is being held on a no-bail warrant.
So far, it has not been determined if Mehserle was taken into custody on an open warrant or a murder warrant. Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff is scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday to reveal more information on the arrest.
Shortly after the news broke, KTVU talked with the mother of Oscar Grant regarding this latest development. Wanda Johnson told KTVU she had not heard of the arrest. She also said while she is hoping for justice in the case, it will not bring her son back.
The news comes on the eve of a large demonstration planned for Wednesday to protest the New Year’s Day shooting of Grant.
Police officials met Tuesday with protest organizers to discuss security plans for the 4 p.m. event on the steps of City Hall. Protesters also intend to march to the Alameda County District Attorney’s office to call for criminal charges against former BART officer Johannes Mehserle.
Witnesses say Mehserle shot Grant in the back while he was lying facedown on a train platform.
Several protests already have taken place, including one last week that turned violent. More than 100 people were arrested, and as many as 45 businesses were damaged.
Police say they expect about 1,000 people to turn out for Wednesday’s protest.
Speculation over what the Alameda County District Attorney would do in the case has been rampant ever since BART concluded its investigation and turned evidence over to the DA’s office on Monday.
Former prosecutors, law school professors and other legal analysts said the case boils down to Mehserle’s reason for pulling the trigger and his state of mind. And they said that task is complicated by Mehserle’s resignation from the Bay Area Rapid Transit police department and his refusal to speak with investigators.
Politically powerful black ministers have trekked to Orloff’s office to urge him to prosecute the case, which also is being investigated by the Oakland Police Department.
State Attorney General Jerry Brown has assigned a prosecutor to monitor the case, and the U.S. Department of Justice has dispatched mediators to help avert violent protests such as one in Oakland last week.
Orloff, a Republican who has run unopposed for district attorney four times on a tough-on-crime platform, did not return telephone calls. And Mehserle’s lawyer, Christopher Miller, also could not be reached.
“You couldn’t write a script with more subplots,” said Darryl Stallworth, who worked as a prosecutor for Orloff for 13 years.
Few legal analysts believe Mehserle will face first-degree murder charges because prosecutors would have to convince a jury that the former officer intended to kill Grant.
A less serious manslaughter charge — either voluntary or involuntary — is more likely, the analysts speculated.
Voluntary manslaughter carries up to nine years in prison and prosecutors need to convince a jury that the former transit officer’s actions were “grossly dangerous or grossly negligent,” said Golden Gate University law professor Peter Keane.
Involuntary manslaughter is a much less serious charge and could result in a sentence of probation. To convict Mehserle of that charge, legal experts said, a jury would have to conclude that he acted improperly but accidentally.
A second-degree murder charge carries a potential life sentence, but proving that Mehserle’s actions were so outside the norm to warrant such a serious accusation will be difficult, experts said.
“It’s hard to argue with those who believe this is a crime,” said Jim Hammer, a former San Francisco prosecutor who helped win a second-degree murder conviction for Marjorie Knoller after her vicious dogs fatally mauled a neighbor in 2001.
“But were the actions so outrageous that he didn’t care about life?”
Michael Rains, a former police officer who defends them now as a lawyer, said he expects Orloff to charge Mehserle because of the case’s high profile. Rains said that prosecutors often “overcharge” a case to position themselves for a plea bargaining.
The attorney said he expects Mehserle to raise a self-defense argument because he was responding to reports of a brawl and people had not been searched before he arrived at the train station.
Orloff has handled many high-profile Northern California cases, including racially charged accusations that a group of Oakland police officers conspired to plant evidence on hundreds of suspects. Yet, the analysts say, this may be Orloff’s thorniest case yet.
“He has a potential Rodney King-debacle developing, and that puts him in a very difficult position,” Keane said. “But he can’t use this cop as a sacrificial lamb to throw to the mob to lower the political heat.”