The verdict was an all-but-unprecedented instance of a police officer being convicted for an
on-duty shooting. But it deeply disappointed Grant's relatives, who said the video-recorded
shooting was a murder and that Mehserle deserved a sentence years longer than the one he is
likely to receive.
"My son was murdered," said Wanda Johnson, Grant's mother, outside the downtown Los Angeles
courthouse where the trial was moved to escape heavy publicity in the Bay Area. "He was murdered
and the law has not held the officer accountable."
The jury also found that Mehserle, 28, had used a gun during the crime. In all, he could be
sentenced to five to 14 years in prison.
The jury took 6 1/2 hours over two days to decide that Mehserle was guilty of a crime, but not guilty
of the other options it had been given - second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.
Their verdict suggests they believed Mehserle when he testified that he had mistaken his pistol for
his Taser as he sought to subdue the 22-year-old Grant at Fruitvale Station in Oakland following a
fight on a BART train, a shooting that was captured on video by five other riders as well as a
'I love you guys'
Mehserle, who had been free on $3 million bail, was remanded into custody and led away in
handcuffs after the verdict was read. Dressed in a gray suit and blue shirt, he turned to his sobbing
parents and sister in the front row of the gallery and said softly, "I love you guys."
His attorney, Michael Rains, did not comment outside court. But the president of the Peace Officers
Research Association of California - whose legal fund is paying for Mehserle's defense - said he
had mixed feelings.
"This whole thing is such a tragedy and such a waste. There's been a life lost and a life ruined," Ron
Cottingham said. "I've had a chance to meet Johannes Mehserle and I know the type of person he
is. It was an accident, and Mehserle is paying dearly for that accident."
John Burris, an Oakland attorney representing Grant's family, decried "a true compromise verdict."
"The system is rarely fair when a police officer shoots an African American male," Burris said. "No
true justice has been given." Grant was African American and Mehserle is white.
Grant's uncle, Cephus "Bobby" Johnson, said "we knew from the beginning that we were at war
with the system. ... We have been slapped in the face by this system that has denied us true justice."
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, speaking at a news conference in Oakland, said
she was disappointed and frustrated by the verdict.
"We believe Johannes Mehserle was guilty of the crime of murder," she said. "We presented the
case that way, we presented the evidence that way, and the jury found otherwise."
Jurors left the courthouse without commenting.
Mehserle's possible sentence for involuntary manslaughter is two, three or four years, plus three,
four or 10 years for using a gun. That means the minimum total sentence that Judge Robert Perry
could impose would be five years, and the maximum would be 14 years.
Sentencing was set for Aug. 6. O'Malley would not say what sentence she will seek.
It is possible that there could be further criminal proceedings against Mehserle.
The U.S. Justice Department issued a statement saying its civil rights division, the U.S. attorney's
office and the FBI "have an open investigation into the fatal shooting and, at the conclusion of the
state prosecution, will conduct an independent review of the facts and circumstances to determine
whether the evidence warrants federal prosecution."
Security was heavy in the courtroom, with 16 sheriff's deputies and several plainclothes officers
present, as the jury filed in just after 4 p.m. Mehserle had entered a few minutes before, looking
shaken and nervous. Grant's mother sat in the second row of the gallery, her head bowed in
When the "not guilty" verdict was read to the second-degree murder charge, Mehserle's father,
Todd Mehserle, began to sob. One of the jurors also dabbed at her eyes.
Mehserle's shooting of Grant was witnessed by dozens of New Year's revelers, most of whom were
on their way home from a fireworks show in San Francisco. It prompted a series of protests,
including one that mushroomed into a riot in downtown Oakland.
Prosecutor David Stein said during the trial that Mehserle had "lost all control" of his emotions and
shot Grant intentionally in the back after briefly trying to handcuff him. Grant, who had a young
daughter, was unarmed and on his chest.
Taking the stand near the end of the trial, Mehserle testified that he had decided to use his Taser
on Grant because he saw Grant put his right hand in his pants pocket and believed the Hayward
man might be reaching for a gun.
Mehserle said he had accidentally pulled out his pistol and fired a single shot before realizing he
had grabbed the wrong weapon.
Mehserle's Taser was positioned to the left of his belt buckle. The right-handed officer's gun was
on his right hip.
Fight on train
Grant had been detained at about 2 a.m., along with four friends, for fighting on a Dublin-Pleasanton
train. He and a second man were soon placed under arrest by then-BART Officer Anthony Pirone,
who said they had resisted him. Stein, the prosecutor, argued that the arrest itself was unlawful
because Grant had cooperated.
Video footage played repeatedly in court showed that as Mehserle raised his gun, Pirone had his
left knee on Grant's neck. Pirone's left hand was pressing Grant's head into the platform, and
Pirone's right hand was holding Grant's right arm - the same one Mehserle said he had struggled
with - behind his back.
The shooting brought on a tumultuous period at BART, which has a full-service police force of about
200 officers. Police Chief Gary Gee retired late last year, and outside auditors criticized the transit
agency for the way it trained, supervised and disciplined cops.
Mehserle resigned soon after the shooting and never spoke with BART internal affairs
Pirone and his partner the night of the shooting, Marysol Domenici, were fired earlier this year by
BART - Pirone for his actions on the train platform and Domenici for the way she reported the
incident to investigators.
BART agreed in January to pay $1.5 million in a civil settlement to Grant's daughter, Tatiana Grant,
who is now 6. Grant's mother and several of his friends who were with him when he was shot still
have pending lawsuits.
East Bay tensions
The trial was moved to Los Angeles in part because of the tensions the killing caused in the East
Bay. Some community leaders, activists and others believe the shooting underscored a larger
problem of police officers abusing people of color with little accountability.
"It was clear that many people across the country, especially in the African American community,
had watched this trial and sincerely hoped that the system would work for African Americans in a
case where the evidence of police abuse was presented clearly on videotape," said Johnson,
Grant's uncle. "I'm sure all of these people are now impacted in the same negative way we are."
There were no African Americans on the jury that convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter.
Seven jurors identified themselves as white, three identified themselves as Latino and one
identified herself as Asian. One juror declined to state a race or ethnicity.
The defense put much of the blame for the shooting on poor training at BART - particularly Taser
training, which Mehserle received a month before the shooting - and on the character of Grant, a
parolee who had spent time in prison.
Rains, the defense attorney, argued that Grant never stopped resisting Mehserle's efforts to
handcuff him before he was shot.
The case marked the first murder prosecution of an on-duty Bay Area police officer. Prosecutors
rarely file charges against police for shootings. A Chronicle review of police use-of-force cases
around the country found just six cases in the past 15 years - not including the BART shooting - in
which murder charges had been filed.
The cases, involving a total of 13 officers, typically resulted in large civil payouts to victims'
relatives. However, none of the officers was convicted of murder and most were acquitted or
cleared altogether. One pleaded no contest to manslaughter and got three years in prison.
A jury found former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle guilty Thursday of involuntary manslaughter,
concluding that he did not intend to kill train rider Oscar Grant when he shot him in the back on New Year's Day
2009 but acted so recklessly that he showed a disregard for Grant's life.
Mehserle convicted of involuntary manslaughter
Demian Bulwa, Chronicle Staff Writer
San Francisco Chronicle July 9, 2010