East Bay News

Former BART cop charged with murder

Wednesday, January 14, 2009
The former BART officer accused of shooting Grant is in Santa Rita on murder charges.    John Burris BART Shooting

Former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot an unarmed man on New Year's Day, was arrested Tuesday night in Nevada.

Mehserle waived extradition in a Nevada courtroom Wednesday morning, and by 2 p.m. was booked into the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.

He's accused of shooting 22-year-old Oscar Grant III in the back, two weeks ago, while officers were breaking up a fight. The shooting triggered community outrage.

There is a possibility murder charges against Officer Johannes Mehserle could be reduced to a lesser charge of first or second-degree murder, or even down to manslaughter. Prosecutors believe this case will head to trial.

The former BART police officer remains in custody in the Santa Rita County Jail in Dublin.

Mesherle could spend decades in prison if he is convicted in the New Year's shooting death of Grant. In the arrest complaint obtained by ABC7, prosecutors say Mesherle "Personally and intentionally discharged a firearm and caused great bodily injury and death to Oscar Grant."

"A complaint was filed in Alameda County Superior Court charging former BART Officer Johannes Mesherle with the murder of Oscar Grant III. Murder charges were filed because at this point what I feel the evidence indicates is an unlawful killing done by an intentional act," said Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff.

Mehserle was arrested Tuesday night, without incident, at a friend's home in Zephyr Cove, Nevada, near Lake Tahoe. Oakland Police had been secretly monitoring him for days.

"Notification to his attorney was made and his attorney in turn called the suspect and said, 'They're there, the warrant's been signed. Just step outside the house,'" said Ron Pierini with the Douglas County Sheriff's Department.

"I don't think there's any evidence at all that he was a flight risk," said Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker.

John Burris is representing Grant's family and said a murder charge is exactly what they wanted.

"That's a serious charge. It has a long prison sentence attached to it and my family wants the longest prison term possible," said Burris.

Tuesday night Burris also said, "It's wonderful news. I'm pleased that it happened as quickly as it has, since the district attorney has taken over the case. It was very important for this to occur quickly. The evidence has been there since day one. It's pretty clear that the evidence suggested and supported a criminal charge. To the extent the D.A. has moved quickly, it would be helpful for the family understand and appreciate, so that the healing process can go forward."

Mehserle's Attorney

"He was in constant communication with me. There was no effort to avoid arrest. He took his family up there for a few days to get away from the pressures of what was going on in the Bay Area and as you're all aware, there were some significant death threats made against him and his family," said Christopher Miller, Mehserle's Attorney.

In Sacramento, Miller promised a vigorous defense.

"This case won't be tried by video alone. I can't go into the details of the case, or the circumstances. I can only tell you I'm confident we'll bring all that out," said Miller.

Miller claims the amateur videos of the shooting, widely circulated on television and on the Internet, don't tell the whole story. Also, Miller says Mehserles' refusal to talk with investigators was a decision made early on and one that he stands by.

"We've made decisions in the case about what we think is appropriate and I can't comment on what we're going to do," said Miller.

Response to the arrest

BART Police Chief Gary Gee says the force is reeling from the arrest of one of its own.

"If there are lessons learned whether it has to do with training, revision of policy and procedures, we will make those changes," said Chief Gary Gee, from BART Police.

BART Spokesperson Linton Johnson told ABC7 that BART officials were never told of the impending arrest and were taken by surprise Tuesday night.

On Wednesday BART released a statement saying, "Yesterday Johannes Mehserle was arrested on an arrest warrant issued by the Alameda County District Attorney's office. This comes after the BART Police Department conducted a thorough investigation that involved nine detectives, which BART Police turned over to District Attorney Thomas Orloff on Monday, January 12. BART Police Chief Gary Gee was informed that an arrest warrant was issued and the Oakland Police Department had effectuated an arrest. We've been asked to refrain from any further comment regarding the arrest until Mr. Orloff addresses the media."

Congresswoman Barbara Lee was pleased the arrest was made. In a public statement released Wednesday she said, "After two long weeks and many expressions of outrage from the community, I am pleased that this arrest was finally made."

Lee went on to say, "I will continue to work with all parties involved to ensure that justice is served," she said. "My thoughts and prayers continue to be with the family of Oscar Grant as they grieve the loss of their loved one. They deserve our support and assistance during this difficult period."

Protest

A protest march began Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. from Oakland's City Hall and continued to the district attorney's office. The event has remained peaceful.

>> Click here for more on the protests

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