Former BART officer testifies he pulled Taser before colleague fatally shot passenger
A former Bay Area transit police officer testified Friday that he pulled out an electric Taser weapon and threatened to use it on a group of men as an “intimidation tactic” minutes before a fellow officer fatally shot one of the men on an Oakland train platform.
Prosecutors allege that Anthony Pirone’s use of profanity and aggressive conduct in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009 created a chaotic scene that resulted in the killing of Oscar J. Grant III.
The murder trial of former Officer Johannes Mehserle was moved to Los Angeles following extensive pretrial publicity in the Bay Area.
Pirone, who no longer works for BART police, recounted in court how he responded to a report of a fight on the first car of a train at the Fruitvale station moments before the shooting.
Pirone said he saw a group of passengers coming from the train’s front car and asked them to sit by the platform wall but they ignored him. Two of the men jumped back on the train, he testified, while the others pretended he wasn’t there.
“I had to repeat my commands, then threatened to Tase them,” Pirone told Alameda County Deputy Dist. Atty. David Stein in a packed downtown L.A. courtroom.
Pirone, who had previously worked as a military police officer in the Marines, said he believed at the time that there was a high likelihood the men he had detained were armed, even though a dispatcher told him that there were no weapons used in the fight on the train.
Stein questioned why he wouldn’t have searched the men or asked his partner to do so when she arrived if he believed they were armed. Pirone said he believed it would have been too dangerous given that two of the men's friends had jumped back on the train.
Once his partner arrived, Pirone went in search of the two missing men on the train, one of whom was Grant. Surveillance video from the train station shows Pirone pointing his Taser through a train window before Grant exits and walks toward the wall.
“It’s just an intimidation tactic to get compliance,” Pirone said.
He testified he used profanity to tell Grant to get off the train, saying Grant had not previously complied with his orders. He accused Grant of verbally abusing him as he escorted Grant to where his friends were sitting.
Though several passengers have described Pirone’s behavior as hostile and aggressive, the former officer said he believed some of the travelers were supportive and echoed his call for the second man to leave the train.
Grant, 22, was shot once in the back as he lay face-down on the platform.
Prosecutors allege that Mehserle intentionally fired the shot. Mehserle’s defense attorney argues that his client meant to use his Taser but mistakenly drew his firearm. Pirone is scheduled to resume testifying Friday afternoon.
-- Jack Leonard at the L.A. Superior Court downtown
Photo: Elizabeth Venable protests outside the Criminal Courts Building in Los Angeles last week during the murder trial of a former BART officer. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times