BART cop's defense claims Taser mistaken for gun
Stephen C. Webster
Published: Saturday January 31, 2009

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Shooter's bail set at $3 million as protest flares in Oakland; Outside agency taking over investigation

According to files released Friday, Johannes Mehserle, the Bay Area Rapid Transit officer who shot and killed 22-year-old Oscar Grant on New Year's Day, told a fellow officer he planned to shock Grant with his Taser, not shoot him.

During a crowded Friday hearing, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson set Mehserle's bail at $3 million.

"That is the type of bail that will go a long ways toward ensuring future appearances in court," said the judge.

Also on Friday, it was announced that an outside agency would take over the shooting investigation, displacing BART Police Chief Gary Gee after he circulated a memo describing how BART employees might go about sending money and material comforts to Mehserle.

"It is unacceptable for the police chief, who ostensibly is investigating Mehserle and other officers ... To encourage officers to visit and make financial contributions to Mehserle," said John Burris, who represents Oscar Grant's family.

Judge Jacobson said he set Mehserle's bail so high because he believes the officer gave an "inconsistent story." He went so far as to say the defendant might "make up a story to avoid the consequences of his actions."

"Jacobson said Mehserle told fellow BART police officers that he was going to use a Taser on Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward man, but after Mehserle shot Grant he told a colleague, 'I thought he had a gun,'" reports San Francisco's KTVU.

The court documents, which contain statements from fellow BART officers present during the shooting, indicate that Mehserle had intended to use a Taser on Grant.

"I'm going to taze him, I'm going to taze him," Mehserle said, according to Officer Tony Pirone. "I can't get his arms. He won't give me his arms. His hands are going for his waistband."

Immediately after the shot, Pirone claims Mehserle said, "Tony, I thought he was going for a gun."

"The judge said Mehserle's statements 'seem to be inconsistent' because if Mehserle truly believed that Grant had a gun then Mehserle would have been justified to pull out his gun and use deadly force and wouldn't have needed to use his Taser," said KTVU.

After Mehserle's bail hearing, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums stated that Mehserle had posted the $3 million in bail and was free.

The statement was in error, and Mehserle remains behind bars. But a correction did not come before the news had touched off a fresh wave of protest in the streets of Oakland.

It began as a "few dozen protesters, organized by the advocacy group Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, gathered at the county courthouse for Mehserle's bail hearing," reports the San Francisco Chronicle. "Protesters carried signs reading 'Jail Racist Killer Cops' and 'Justice for Oscar Grant,' and several of them said they were angry bail was granted."

"[N]ine people were arrested for failing to disperse," reports Oakland's CBS 5. A police vehicle was damaged, and officers at one point deployed tear gas. The protesters also triggered the brief closure of Oakland's 12th Street BART station, according to a published report.

"When police arrived, the crowd moved toward Oakland Police Department headquarters at 7th Street and Broadway, near where the rear windows of an unmarked police sedan were smashed while several officers sat inside," said the Contra Costa Times, in a report titled "Police prevent repeat of earlier rioting."

"Police fired two 'flash bang' grenades at the crowd and pushed protesters back down Broadway toward 14th Street. The protesters headed back down 14th Street to the courthouse, but teams of riot police faced off with the demonstrators at 14th and Madison.

"Police arrested two men in the parking lot of a nearby McDonald's restaurant and continued to push the crowd back up 14th Street toward downtown. They ordered the crowd to clear the area or police would fire tear gas. Instead they warned protesters to clear the area and advanced on a small crowd, pushing them south along Madison Street. Soon after, police arrested about eight people. Officers tackled several young males as they resisted being restrained. One man was hit in the back with a truncheon."

A prior protest over Grant's murder turned violent. On Jan. 7, hardly a week after the killing, police made at least 105 arrests after cars -- including one police vehicle -- were vandalized, store windows were smashed, and fires blazed out of control on the streets. Approximately 300 stores were damaged.

"I am begging the citizens not to use violent tactics, not to be angry," said Wanda Johnson, Grant's mother, at a press conference after the first round of protest. "You're hurting people who have nothing to do with the situation. You're vandalizing their property, hurting their cars and breaking their windows. Please just stop it, please."

"It has not been decided which third party will take over the investigation," reports the Associated Press.

The following video was published to YouTube by the Contra Costa Times on Jan. 30.

The following video of protests outside Mehserle's bail hearing was published to YouTube Jan. 30 by user 'studentlawyer.'

Further reading:

Video: Calif. cop shoots apparently helpless man in the back

Oakland protests turn violent as victim's mother pleads for peace

Oakland mayor pleads for calm: 'I don't want anybody killed

More BART protests planned for major cities

Arrest made in shooting death of Oscar Grant

DA appeals to community, defends murder charge against BART cop

Second man claims he was abused by BART shooter

Oscar Grant punched in the face before being shot