The defense attorney for Johannes Mehserle, a former BART police officer charged with murder in the fatal shooting an unarmed passenger, may call civil rights attorney John Burris as a witness when Mehserle’s trial begins in June, according to court documents.
Burris filed a lawsuit against BART, Mehserle, 28, and other transit agency police officers on behalf of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III’s family after the officer shot and killed Grant during a struggle at the Fruitvale BART station on Jan. 1, 2009. In the same lawsuit, Burris represented five men he said were wrongfully arrested at the scene of the shooting.
Burris and four of those men are among the 10 civilians named in a list of potential witnesses to be called by Mehserle’s defense attorney, Michael Rains.
Some of Burris’ clients have information that could be helpful to Mehserle, Rains said to local media, but they would be considered “snitches” and their safety could be jeopardized. Rains said Burris could testify on the threats or intimidation those clients face as witnesses.
Contacted Sunday, Burris said his Oakland office had cooperated with the criminal case proceedings but would retain counsel in an effort to quash any subpoenas that could violate his attorney-client privilege with other witnesses or potential witnesses in the trial.
“All the clients I represent will be made available to him if he requests them,” Burris said. “But I don’t know that I can give any testimony that will be helpful to him. I wasn’t present at the shooting. Anything I know from my clients is protected by attorney-client privilege.”
Also named in Rains’ list of witnesses are Oakland police Sgt. Tony Jones, BART Officer Jon Woffinden and former Officer Anthony Pirone. BART recently fired Pirone for the manner in which he detained Grant and his friends. Woffinden and Pirone both testified at Mehserle’s preliminary hearing last year.
Not on the list, though, is former Officer Marysol Domenici, who did testify at the preliminary hearing. BART recently fired Domenici, citing the way she reported the shooting in police reports and in her testimony.
Rains did not immediately return a phone call asking for comment Sunday.
In the early morning shooting, Grant was shot while lying on his stomach and numerous passengers captured videos of the shooting on cell phones. Those videos ignited riotous anger in parts of the East Bay.