Ex-BART officer Mehserle sentenced to two years in prison for fatal shooting of unarmed man [updated]
A former transit police officer convicted of involuntary manslaughter for fatally shooting an unarmed man on an Oakland train station platform was sentenced by a Los Angeles judge Friday to two years in prison.
Johannes Mehserle, 28, contended that he mistakenly used his firearm instead of an electric Taser weapon when he shot Oscar J. Grant III in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009. But prosecutors argued at his trial that Mehserle meant to reach for his handgun as he tried to handcuff an unresisting Grant, who was lying face-down on the platform floor.
Grainy video footage captured by several witnesses shows Mehserle, who is white, firing one round into the back of Grant, who was black. The racially charged case sparked rioting in Oakland soon after the shooting and again in July, when a Los Angeles jury acquitted Mehserle of murder but found him guilty of a lesser crime. The trial had been moved to downtown Los Angeles amid concern about the extensive media coverage of the killing in the Bay Area.
Mehserle, whose manslaughter conviction included a gun enhancement that increased his possible sentence, faced up to 14 years in prison. The judge, who called it an "accidental shooting," on Friday tossed out the gun enhancement.
[Updated, 1:30 p.m.: After the sentencing was announced, Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson, emerged from the courtroom muttering, "Nothing, he got nothing!" The family declined to talk to reporters.
About 50 Grant supporters lined up in front of the courthouse chanting, "Mehserle is guilty, guilty. The whole damn system is guilty, guilty."
In downtown Oakland, where a memorial was being set up for his grandson, Oscar Grant Sr., 65, said, “It’s a bad decision. No time can bring [Oscar] back. But [Mehserle] should have served some time. Otherwise, they’re telling the public, though he went to trial, a policeman can shoot someone and go free. These guys have a license to kill.”
But the elder Grant discouraged violent protests.
“My message to the public is don’t use this as a reason to destroy this city,” he said.]
During the trial, an Alameda County prosecutor argued that Mehserle intentionally shot Grant, who had been detained with several friends following reports of a fight on a train stopped at the Fruitvale Station. The officer's holster was specially designed to prevent easy release of his firearm. And the prosecutor contrasted the light, bright yellow Taser gun with the heavier black Sig Sauer handgun that Mehserle fired.
In tearful testimony, Mehserle said he intended to use his Taser because he believed Grant might be reaching for a gun in his pants pocket.
Two people, including a friend of Grant's, testified that they heard the officer say shortly before the shooting that he intended to use his Taser. Numerous witnesses said the officer looked shocked after the gunshot.
-- Jack Leonard and Abby Sewell in Los Angeles, and Maria L. La Ganga in Oakland
Photo: Johannes Mehserle, right, shown Jan. 14, 2009 in the East Fork Justice Court in Minden, Nev. Credit: Associated Press/Cathleen Allison