Protesters object to early release of ex-BART officer who fatally shot man
Two dozen protesters massed in front of the Los Angeles criminal courts building Monday morning to protest the early release of Johannes Mehserle, the BART officer convicted in the shooting death of an unarmed man at an Oakland transit station.
Protesters said Mehserle only spent a year in L.A. County jail. He had been sentenced to serve two years for involuntary manslaughter.
Julia Wallace, 29, a member of the South Central Neighborhood Council, said Mehserle's sentence, which she said was served entirely in county jail, not state prison, was wholly inadequate for the death of Oscar Grant.
"He served less time than Michael Vick did for beating a dog," she said. "It's totally unjust."
Wallace also said the group will be marching to U.S. District Court later Monday to demand federal charges be filed against Mehserle and other officers who she said hurled racial slurs at Grant before he was killed.
"This was a hate crime plain and simple," she said. Grant was black; Mehserle is white.
Standing before television cameras, Wallace said authorities compounded the insult of releasing Mehserle after so short a sentence by letting him out at the first possible instant after midnight. "They couldn't even wait a minute to let him out," she said."This is ridiculous. Oscar Grant's life is worth more than a year."
"He didn't step one day into the penitentiary," said Bilal Ali, 59, of Westlake. "It's an outrage , it's a disgrace."
L.A. County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry ruled Friday that Mehserle, who was sentenced last November, should be released because of credits for time served and good behavior.
A Los Angeles jury convicted Mehserle last July in the death of 22-year-old Grant on the platform of the Fruitvale BART station on New Year's Day 2009. The case sparked riots and protests in Oakland and was moved to Southern California. It sparked more unrest when Mehserle was not convicted of a more serious charge and was sentenced to two years behind bars.
Grainy video of the shooting -- captured by several witnesses -- showed Mehserle firing one round into Grant's back. Alameda County prosecutors accused the officer of murder. Mehserle, 29, testified that he meant to use his Taser but mistakenly grabbed his pistol.
-- Gale Holland
Photo: Community activist Sheena Chou stands outside the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles to protest the early release of Johannes Mehserle, the former Bay Area transit cop convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times