BART agrees to $1.3-million settlement with mother of unarmed shooting victim
Two and a half years after Oscar Grant III was shot to death by a transit police officer, the Bay Area Rapid Transit district agreed to pay his mother $1.3 million to settle her civil case against the agency and the law enforcement agents involved.
Wanda Johnson had sued BART and the officers for $50 million, charging wrongful death and violation of civil rights. Her son, 22, had been traveling home from a New Year’s Eve celebration in San Francisco when a fight broke out in his rail car.
The African American supermarket butcher was unarmed and laying face-down on a rail station platform when he was shot by Officer Johannes Mehserle, 29. The white officer said he thought he had pulled his Taser, not his gun.
Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and released in mid-June after serving 11 months of a two-year sentence. The shooting, conviction and release all sparked protests, some violent, in Oakland and elsewhere. Demonstrators charged racism in Grant’s death and leniency in Mehserle’s punishment.
“This has been an extraordinary situation for the mom, with the nature of the death and the criminal prosecution and the unsatisfactory aspect to that,” her attorney, John Burris, said Tuesday. “This brings closure to these events in a way that’s necessary. She’s very emotional, but she saw it was in her best interests to move on.”
In 2010, BART settled with Grant’s then-5-year-old daughter Tatiana for $1.5 million. Settlement talks continue in suits filed by Grant’s father as well as several friends who were with him on the Fruitvale Station platform and witnessed the shooting.
“No matter what anyone’s opinion of the case may be, the sad fact remains that this incident has left Wanda Johnson without a son,” BART board member Lynette Sweet said in a written statement. “We’re working hard to make the [BART] Police Department the best it can be for our officers, our customers and our community. This settlement is critical in our efforts to move forward.”
-- Maria L. La Ganga in San Francisco
Photo: A Los Angeles protest earlier this month seeking federal charges against the transit officer in the shooting. Credit: Nick Ut, Associated Press