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Ex-BART officer convicted of manslaughter in Oakland shooting death

7:06 PM, Jul 8, 2010   |    comments
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LOS ANGELES, CA - A former Bay Area Rapid Transit officer accused of murdering an unarmed black man on an Oakland train platform last year was convicted of involuntary manslaughter by a Los Angeles jury Thursday.

Former officer Johannes Mehserle had pleaded not guilty in the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant, 22, when officers responded to fight at the Oakland Fruitvale BART station on New Year's Day, 2009.

Mehserle, who is white, testified he mistakenly pulled his handgun instead of a Taser. At least five bystanders videotaped the incident -- one of the most racially polarizing cases in California since four Los Angeles officers were acquitted in 1992 in the beating of Rodney King.

The trial was moved to Los Angeles County due to widespread publicity in the Bay Area.

Reaction

Grant family attorney John Burris said the family was "extremely disappointed" with the verdict against the officer.

Burris said outside a Los Angeles court Thursday that the verdict "is not a true representation of what happened" to Grant and that Mehserle should have been convicted of murder.

He said it was like Mehserle "ran a light instead of killing someone."

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said she was "disappointed and frustrated" by the verdict.

"This was not the verdict we sought, but we respect the process of the jury system," she said.

But O'Malley said she was glad the jury found true the allegation that Mehserle deliberately used his gun and rejected the claim by his lawyer Michael Rains that he believed he was using his Taser.

She said Mehserle will face a term of between five and 14 years in state prison when he's sentenced by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry.

"He's going to prison and will pay for his crime," O'Malley said.

A crowd of people gathered near Oakland's city hall let out a chorus of moans and profanity when they heard the verdict.

Many in the loose group of about 100 people said they believed Thursday's verdict was too light.

A number of people appeared stunned after the announcement. About a dozen people formed in a semi-circle to pray, and others appeared stunned and hugged one another.

By nightfall, Oakland police Chief Anthony Batts said the response to the verdict went smoothly with the exception of a few minor incidents.

About 500 to 800 people gathered downtown to express their opinions of the verdict, he said. A staging area has been set up where individuals are taking turns speaking at a microphone.

There were no reports of arrests and no injuries, Batts said. No streets were closed.

"Minus one minor flare-up, this is going well," Batts said of the protests. "Our plan is to facilitate First Amendment rights and the people giving speeches. We will continue to allow people to do what they're doing."

During the flare-up, a small group of protesters threw bottles and rocks at police, Batts said.

One woman in the crowd suffered a leg injury but said she was fine.

A small fire was also set outside the Oakland police station at Broadway and 7th Street, but Batts said police were able to establish a line at Broadway and 12th Street and stop the crowd from getting near the station.

"We're giving them a wide berth," Batts said.

He said no problems had been reported on BART either.

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums also thanked the residents of Oakland for rejecting violence as they express their frustration with the verdict.

"We want to compliment people on their passion for justice, but also on their passion for peace," he said.

Batts said the mayor's office facilitated community peacekeepers, who are wearing orange jackets at the protests.

Gov. Schwarzenegger urged Californians to remain calm following the verdict. Schwarzenegger issued the statement Thursday asking residents not to resort to violence in the aftermath of the racially charged case.

Gov. Schwarzenegger urged Californians to remain calm following the verdict. Schwarzenegger issued the statement Thursday asking residents not to resort to violence in the aftermath of the racially charged case.

BART Board President James Fang issued a statement saying the transit agency continued to regret the terrible tragedy and it forced BART to change some policies.

He also urged calm. 

"While we cannot change the past, the tragedy has served as a catalyst to change the future of BART for our customers and the communities we serve. Oakland, indeed the whole Bay Area, is one of the best places to live in the entire world. We must not let the initial emotional reaction of the verdict have long-lasting negative effects on the place we call home," Fang said.

The case went to the jury last Friday and there were only two hours of deliberations before the three-day holiday weekend.

A juror's illness prevented deliberations Tuesday and one of the panelists was replaced this week by an alternate. The jury returned to talks Thursday after they spent roughly three hours in discussions Wednesday because a juror had a doctor's appointment.

News10/KXTV, The Associated Press and Bay City News

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