The prosecutor in the murder trial of a former BART police officer who killed an unarmed man called a use-of-force expert to the stand today – a former cop who talked about how officers should stay calm and use as little force as needed when arresting suspects.
But the most memorable part of Sean McCann’s testimony came during cross-examination, when – in response to a question by defense attorney Michael Rains – he said he had once drawn his gun on a suspect during a fight without realizing he had done so.
The exchange was the latest instance in which former Officer Johannes Mehserle’s lawyer has sought to score points with jurors using the prosecution’s witnesses, and underscored the trial’s focus on how police officers’ minds work during stressful situations.
Rains says Mehserle accidentally pulled his service pistol, mistaking it for his Taser, when he shot train rider Oscar Grant during an arrest Jan. 1, 2009. The chaotic scene that night on the Fruitvale Station platform in Oakland, Rains says, helped confuse Mehserle and led to a fatal error.
Prosecutor David Stein says the Taser story is a fabrication, that Mehserle allowed his emotions to cloud his judgment and intended to shoot Grant with his gun. Stein says Mehserle did not even have cause to shock Grant with a Taser, because Grant was prone and not resisting.
McCann was a police officer in Berkeley until 2004 and taught at the Napa police academy where Mehserle trained in 2006. Late one night on patrol in Berkeley, he told Rains, he got into a struggle with an unarmed robbery suspect near University Avenue and ended up drawing his gun.
“You have any memory of drawing your gun?” Rains asked.
“No,” McCann said.
“You have no idea of how that gun got in your hand, do you?” Rains asked.
“No, I don’t,” McCann said.
Stein wasn’t prepared for McCann’s personal account, and sought to minimize any impression it left with jurors. He had McCann detail the whole incident and highlighted how different it was from the BART scenario.
The robbery suspect in Berkeley, McCann said, was 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds and high on crack cocaine. He had beaten an elderly man, and McCann had to confront him alone.
After an exhausting fight that spilled across traffic lanes and into a dark alley, McCann said, he put the suspect in a choke hold with his left arm and said, “It’s over.” Then he looked up to see his pistol in his right hand.
As the trial broke for lunch, the prosecution had just called to the stand former BART police Officer Marysol Domenici. She was the second officer to report to the Fruitvale Station platform in response to a fight on a train, the incident that set in motion the events leading to Grant’s death.