A Los Angeles County jury is to resume deliberations July 6 in the murder trial of a White, former Oakland, Calif. mass transit officer charged with killing a Black man who was lying facedown on a train platform.

An Alameda County judge moved the trial from the Oakland area to Los Angeles due to intense media coverage and concerns over ongoing tensions.

For the 12-member jury, the choice is thorny: Did Johannes Mehserle intentionally reach for and fire his handgun or had he reached for a TASER to subdue an uncuffed subject during a scuffle.

Mehserle, at the time a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer, is charged with shooting Oscar Grant III on an Oakland area BART station platform in a confrontation that began with transit officers responding to a 2 a.m. call about a fight on a train Jan 1, 2009.

The jury deliberated for three hours on July 3 before recessing for the Fourth of July weekend. It’s been 30 years since a police officer in the state has been convicted of murder while on duty.

Grant was unarmed and was lying facedown on the BART Station platform when he was shot. Mehserle tearfully testified in L.A. last week that he mistakenly used his handgun instead of a Taser when he shot Grant, who while lying facedown had put his hand in his pocket when the officer tried to handcuff him. Mehserle resigned from the BART security force shortly after the shooting.

Alameda County Prosecutor Dan Stein challenged Mehserle’s accident theory during his closing argument. “Acting from emotion resulted in the death of an innocent person,” Stein told jurors on Friday.

In his closing statements on Thursday and Friday, defense attorney Michael Rains painted a different picture of what took place the morning Grant died. Rains said Mehserle’s actions were not taken with deadly intent, or with negligence. Rains told jurors that he believed they could not come away with first-degree murder, second-degree murder charges, or manslaughter charges against Mehserle.

“He did not intend to shoot his firearm,” Rains said. “That’s why there is no murder . That’s why there is no manslaughter. There has to be an intent or intent to kill. This is an accident, folks, plain and simple. This is what the evidence shows. We don’t have here evidence of criminal negligence.”

Stein dismissed the defense’s version of the truth.

“We are all entitled to the same justice,” Stein said. “All people, regardless of who they are, are entitled to the same justice. Oscar Grant was one of us and he is entitled to justice. People expect to be protected by the police. But sometimes the police kill people; and they have to be held accountable to the same standard of justice as other people.”

As the jury resumes deliberations in the case against Mehserle, who is free on $3 million bond, Grant’s family said they hope justice will prevail.

“That same pain we felt then, we feel now,” said Cephus Johnson, Grant’s uncle and his family’s media representative. “I feel confident in this jury. This jury has been selected to represent this county. The murder of Oscar Grant is enough.”

In Oakland, police undertook crowd-control training in anticipation of the verdict during the week of July 5, according to the Associated Press. Windows at the BART station at which Grant was shot have been boarded up as a precaution, and public officials including Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and police chief Anthony Batts have urged citizens to show restraint, the AP reported.

 

Dennis J. Freeman

Special to the AFRO