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L.A. judge rules Alameda County D.A.'s office may stay on BART murder case

February 19, 2010 | 12:43 pm

An L.A. County judge ruled Friday that the Alameda County district attorney’s office can stay on the murder case of a former transit officer accused of shooting an unarmed rider even though authorities acted inappropriately by trying to interview the officer over the objections of his attorney.

Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry found that Oakland police detectives, working under the direction of the Alameda County district attorney, violated former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle’s constitutional rights following his arrest when they attempted to question him even though his attorney had told them he would not agree to an interview.

Mehserle’s attorney, Michael L. Rains, argued that the conduct was “shameful” and that the entire Alameda County district attorney’s office should be removed from the case. Perry described the actions of the detectives and then-Dist. Atty. Tom Orloff as “unseemly” but also found that it was a “fairly minor” violation.

In allowing the D.A.’s office to keep the case, Perry noted that Mehserle declined to speak to detectives and that Orloff had since retired. Perry also denied a request to reduce Mehserle’s $3-million bail. He said the former police officer, who is free on bail, remained a flight risk.

Mehserle, 28, is charged with murder in the New Year's Day 2009 killing of Oscar Grant on a BART station platform. Fellow passengers recorded the shooting and its chaotic aftermath on cellphones in footage that was broadcast widely. The shooting sparked riots in downtown Oakland and death threats against Mehserle.

Mehserle's defense has argued the officer meant to shoot Grant with an electric stun gun but mistakenly grabbed his pistol instead. More than two dozen Grant supporters attended Friday’s hearing while others joined in a demonstration outside the downtown Los Angeles courthouse. The supporters held signs that read “Justice for Oscar Grant” and “Stop Police Murder Now.”

The trial, which was moved to Los Angeles following concerns about pretrial publicity in Alameda County, is scheduled to begin June 7.

-- Jack Leonard at the L.A. Superior Courthouse downtown

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