Verdict: No Monetary Damages for Oscar Grant’s Father
San Francisco Federal Court – Today a jury, presided over by the Honorable Edward Chen in San Francisco’s Federal District Court, found that Oscar Grant, Jr., the father of Oscar Grant III, is not entitled to monetary damages from former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle for “loss of familial relationship” after the unintentional shooting of Grant at BART’s Fruitvale Station in 2009.
“Five years later, the wounds are still there – I’m relieved that we can finally put this tragedy behind us, not just for Johannes and his family, but for the entire community,” said Mike Rains of Rains Lucia Stern, Mehserle’s defense counsel. Rains also defended Mehserle in the 2010 criminal trial.
Grant, Jr. brought a civil lawsuit against Mehserle for an undisclosed amount of damages for shooting and killing his son, claiming that Mehserle’s intentional shooting of his son deprived him of a previous existing relationship which involved deep attachments and commitments to one another, and the sharing of special community of thoughts, experiences and beliefs.
Grant, Jr. was sentenced to prison for first degree murder in 1985, before the birth of his son. Still incarcerated 29 years later, Rains successfully communicated to the jury that Grant, Jr.’s relationship with his son had been of a limited nature, and that Mehserle did not intentionally or maliciously intend to kill Grant III, and therefore his father was not entitled to monetary damages.
“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 and therefore was not entitled to monetary damages,” Rains said.
BART approved a settlement with the mother of Grant III’s young daughter, Tatiana, in January 2010 for $1.5 million and a settlement with his mother, Wanda Johnson, for $1.3 million. BART also awarded $175,000 to Grant III’s five friends. No awards were made by BART to Grant, Jr. who remains incarcerated.
Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the 2009 accidental shooting of Grant III and served the minimum term allowable under law in the Los Angeles County Jail. In both trials, there are issues concerning the adequacy of the 8 hour taser training course that met minimum requirements of both Taser International, the manufacturer of the taser and the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Trainings.
In the civil trial, Mehserle reaffirmed that he did not intend to shoot Grant III. Under questioning, Mehserle said that he had practiced drawing his firearm “thousands of times” but had only practiced drawing the taser out of his holster about 10 times.
“What Johannes did was unintentional and would have been prevented by better training,” Rains added. “This is the 9th time since tasers started looking and feeling like handguns in 1999 that a law enforcement officer has accidentally shot a suspect who they intended to tase. In all cases, the officers had used the dominant hand to draw both the taser and the firearm, and all of the officers fired a single round (thinking it was a taser) instead of multiple rounds, which they are trained to do if they intend to shoot the firearm. Proper training is essential for every law enforcement agency. With this history of taser/firearm confusion cases, officers should carry the taser so it must be drawn and fired with the non-dominant hand.”
Rains said the juries who have heard this case including in Los Angeles as well as the trial judge who presided over the criminal trial have consistently determined that the shooting of Oscar Grant by Officer Mehserle was an accident. Still, Rains said, “that it is time to close the wounds this tragic incident has had on everyone involved, including Mehserle and his young family. Five years of reliving this tragic night is enough suffering for everyone in the community and it’s time to heal and to put this behind us,” Rains concluded.