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Ex-BART officer arrested on murder warrant [UPDATED]

January 14, 2009 | 10:31 am

A former transit police officer, allegedly seen on a videotape killing an unarmed man at a Bay Area subway station, was arrested in Nevada on a homicide warrant.

The arrest was confirmed by the Oakland mayor's office, but few other details about the charges were immediately available. The former officer, Johannes Mehserle, was being held in Nevada's Douglas County.

Graphic video of Oscar J. Grant III's death at an Oakland train station has roiled emotions in the Bay Area, leading to a demonstration at Bay Area Rapid Transit district headquarters and calls for more oversight of the agency's police force.

The family of the 22-year-old man filed a $25-million wrongful-death claim against the agency Tuesday. In amateur videos, an officer is seen shooting the unarmed man in the back as he lay face down while other officers restrained him.

Grant had been celebrating New Year's Eve in San Francisco and was heading back to his East Bay home on a BART train when a fight broke out between two groups of riders about 2 a.m.

BART police met the train at Oakland's Fruitvale station and ordered passengers -- including Grant -- onto the platform.

Video taken by spectators with cellphones shows a chaotic scene, with uniformed officers pulling riders out of a train and then shoving one man onto the ground. With the man face down, an officer stands over him, draws his gun and shoots.

The videos have been posted on YouTube, leading to a welter of angry comments, like one Tuesday afternoon declaring, "This is an outrage! That murderer should be captured and prosecuted."

Updated, 11:55 a.m.: Alameda County Dist. Atty. Tom Orloff said today in a news conference that a complaint was filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court, charging Mehserle with Grant's murder. He was arrested this morning in Douglas County in Nevada and appeared in court there at 9:15 a.m. He will be transported to Oakland later today and will be held in custody, said Orloff, who has not determined if Mehserle will be charged with first- or second-degree murder.

"At this point, what I feel the evidence indicates that is an unlawful killing done by an intentional act and as for the evidence, we have nothing that would mitigate that to something lower than a murder," Orloff said at the news conference in Oakland. "That doesn't mean that evidence could not develop in the future."

When BART Police Chief Gary Gee, who also attended the news conference, was asked if race was a factor in the incident, he said: "I can tell you from the first 12, 13 days of this investigation, we have not found any nexus to race that provoked this to happen."

If Mehserle is convicted of first-degree murder with the use of a firearm, he could receive a sentence of 50 years to life.

-- Maria LaGanga

Check out a Times photo gallery on the BART shooting.