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November 7, 2010

Protests and talk of federal follow-up after two-year state sentence give to BART officer for homicide

As detailed in this local article, which is headlined "Scores arrested in Oakland protests over BART officer Mehserle," the relatively short sentence given to an officer convicted in a high-profile homicide case in California has once again stirred up community consternation:

As many as 150 demonstrators were arrested in Oakland during protests over the two-year prison sentence handed down to a former police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man on an Oakland train station platform....

Police in riot gear allowed several hundred marchers to move through the streets for about an hour before encircling a smaller number of people near 6th Avenue and East 17th Street.  Demonstrators left a trail of broken windshields as they moved down 17th Street, angering some residents.

Police moved in after one officer was injured after being struck by a car and another officer's gun was grabbed by a protester.  Officials said that overall, the protests were less destructive than those that occurred in July concerning the case.

The demonstrators were expressing anger at the case of Johannes Mehserle.  On Friday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry said evidence in the racially charged case showed that the shooting was an accident caused when Mehserle mistakenly reached for a firearm instead of an electric Taser weapon he meant to use.  As Perry spoke, the victim's mother rushed from the courtroom with other relatives and supporters.  "Nothing, he got nothing!" she told reporters after she exited.

The sentencing followed a tearful apology from Mehserle, who, handcuffed to a waist chain over his orange prison jumpsuit, insisted that the shooting was unintentional.  "I want to say how deeply sorry I am," said Mehserle, 28.  "Nothing I could ever say or do could heal the wound I created."

Grainy video footage of the New Year's Day 2009 shooting was captured by several witnesses and shows Mehserle, who is white, firing one round into the back of Oscar J. Grant III, who was black.  Grant, 22, was lying face-down on the Fruitvale Station platform when he was shot.

The shooting triggered rioting days later and again in July, when a Los Angeles jury rejected murder and voluntary manslaughter charges but found that the officer acted with gross negligence.

Relatedly, this AP story details that the "attorney representing the relatives of Oscar Grant says he plans on following up with the U.S. Department of Justice and federal officials about its planned civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting of Grant." Here is more:

John Burris said Saturday the family is also preparing for a trial scheduled in May 2011 stemming from the multimillion dollar civil rights lawsuits filed against the Bay Area Rapid Transit District and the officers involved in the incident....

Burris made his comments the day after former BART officer Johannes Mehserle was sentenced to the minimum two-year sentence for the New Year's Day 2009 slaying of Grant.  Burris says the family was disappointed in the sentence, but that the family had "some victories" because Mehserle is going to prison.

November 7, 2010 at 11:17 AM | Permalink


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Query: if he didn't mean to shoot the guy with a gun, why should he even be in jail for any time. Is gross negligence really something that can be divined from a split second act?

Posted by: federalist | Nov 7, 2010 11:30:38 AM

The Left. An extra 250,000 blacks have been murdered by other blacks, due to illegitimacy, inadequate police protection, crack dealing, and devaluation of the black murder victim by the racist lawyer hierarchy. This number is 50 times bigger than all the lynchings in history. Not a word from the Left.

A white makes an awful mistake, and expresses deep regret, it's time to break windshields. The owners of those cars are likely black, but not left wing, as evidenced by their affording a car. They should not depend on the police, which allows a fine city to be nearly unlivable. They need to come out and mete out street justice on the left wing vandals. Just beat their asses. That was the lesson learned in the LA riots. The Korean owners stood on the roofs of their stores, and shot, to kill, at the left wing mob. They got to keep their businesses intact.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 7, 2010 11:55:57 AM

A state prosecution and sentencing, a multimillion dollar civil trial against BART, and now a federal criminal investigation into what everyone agrees was a tragic mistake? How many bites at the apple, opportunities to riot, do we as a country want to provide????????

Posted by: mjs | Nov 7, 2010 2:53:39 PM

Lenient sentenes are popular with liberals, except when they're not.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 7, 2010 5:41:39 PM

Bill, I am not so sure that this qualifies as a lenient sentence.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 7, 2010 7:10:48 PM

federalist --

You may well be correct, but I haven't followed the particulars of the case well enough to make a judgment. What is remarkable, in my view, is that liberals, who never saw a sentence short enough, now take time out to stage a riot because a sentence is "too short."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 7, 2010 9:43:38 PM

What is remarkable about people thinking that (1) when a government official, trained in the use of firearms, tasers, and other weapons, and authorized to use those weapons, mistakenly uses the wrong weapon, kills someone, and then does not have to answer a homicide charge; when (2) he is prosecuted and sentenced by government officials; and, when some other guy not trained in such use of weapons can't hope to get a two-year sentence by saying he accidentally pulled his gun instead of settling the dispute with his fists? What is so remarkable about that? Seems to me that some think the government is in cahoots.

As for myself, I find it hard to believe that a San Francisco police officer doesn't know the difference between how his gun feels and how his taser feels.

I don't suggest two years in jail is not a long time, because it is.

Posted by: = | Nov 8, 2010 9:13:54 AM


Your argument is plausible, but the standard is beyond a reasonalbe doubt. The jury heard the evidence; we didn't.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 8, 2010 9:37:17 AM

The victim was laying prone, handcuffed, back to the officer...what was the need to even pull a taser? Two years for killing a defenseless, unarmed, handcuffed non-violent offender is a lenient sentence. I don't advocate looting in any way, but a peaceful protest is warranted and encouraged in this situation.

Posted by: anon | Nov 8, 2010 9:41:44 AM

so now you don't find it remarkable?

Posted by: = | Nov 8, 2010 10:09:08 AM

"Two years for killing a defenseless, unarmed, handcuffed non-violent offender is a lenient sentence."

Is that the legal standard? Seems to me is that if he didn't intentionally shoot a gun, then there really is no crime here. If he deliberately shot him with a gun, then death would be an appropriate punishment. This looks like a mistake, and a mistake that doesn't even involve recklessness (a split-second decision almost by definition is not reckless). And absent that, typically mistakes that get people killed don't result in jail time.

By the way, police should NEVER stand by while property is destroyed. EVER.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 9, 2010 1:55:26 AM


I would say however, that while it was a mistake to use the gun instead of the taser even the taser was over the line and thus the officer should not have been shielded by the fact that he had no desire to kill. He had already made the decision to use grossly inappropriate force. For a police officer that by itself should carry a death sentence, whether or not anyone died as a result.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 9, 2010 12:49:47 PM

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