By Bob Egelko 7/1/14
A federal jury cleared former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle of civil rights violations Tuesday for fatally shooting unarmed passenger Oscar Grant III on an Oakland transit platform, rejecting a claim by Grant’s father that Mehserle had intentionally harmed his son without justification.
After less than a day of deliberations, the 10-member U.S. District Court jury in San Francisco unanimously denied damages to Grant’s father, Oscar Grant Jr.
Grant, 22, of Hayward, had been taken off a train after a disturbance and was facedown on the platform at Fruitvale Station on New Year’s Day 2009 when Mehserle shot him in the back.
The officer testified, both at his criminal trial in Los Angeles and at the civil trial in San Francisco, that he thought Grant had a gun and was trying to subdue him with a Taser stun gun when he mistakenly pulled out his handgun. Questioned at the San Francisco trial, Mehserle said he hadn’t focused on the fact that another officer had his knee on Grant’s neck, and hadn’t intended to shoot Grant.
The Los Angeles jury convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter, and he served about 11 months of a two-year prison sentence.
Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, settled a damage claim against BART for $1.3 million, and the transit system paid another $1.5 million in a settlement with Grant’s young daughter. Grant’s father went to trial in his damage suit while continuing to serve a prison sentence for an unrelated murder, a crime that was not disclosed to the jury.
Johnson and Grant’s father both testified that the elder Grant had tried to maintain a relationship with his son, with visits and phone calls, and that they valued their family relationship. But the jury found that the father had failed to show he had a close familial relationship with his son, a verdict that was enough by itself to defeat his damage suit.
The jurors also concluded that Grant’s father had failed to prove the officer intentionally harmed his son – either by shooting him or by intending to stun him – for reasons “unrelated to legitimate law-enforcement objectives.”
“The jury took into account the fact that Oscar Grant’s death was accidental and that his biological father had a limited relationship with his son,” said Mehserle’s lawyer, Michael Rains.
Waukeen McCoy, a lawyer for Grant’s father, told reporters there was abundant evidence that he had been close to his son and that Mehserle had intended to shoot Grant without justification. He said he was considering an appeal.
Jurors also rejected a damage claim by the family of Johnnie Caldwell, a friend of Grant’s, against another BART officer, Marysol Domenici. The suit accused Domenici of using excessive force against Caldwell by allegedly shoving him and pointing a Taser at him on the platform. Caldwell was killed in a 2011 shooting.