East Bay News

Judge allows criminal history detail in BART trial

Friday, May 07, 2010

A Los Angeles judge has ruled that Oscar Grant's prior arrest and violent resistance to police can be used in the upcoming trial of former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle.

Mehserle's murder trial begins next month. He is accused of shooting Grant in the back on a BART platform on New Year's Day 2009. Mehserle's attorney Michael Rains claims the shooting was accidental and that Mehserle meant to fire his Taser instead of his handgun, as a reaction to Grant's resistance to officers that night.

Judge Robert Perry granted Rains' motion to introduce evidence of an incident in San Leandro in October 2006. At that time, Grant was stopped by police officers who spotted him sitting in a car with a gun. According to police, Grant threw the gun and tried to run away. He eventually had to be Tasered and was kicked several times by officers before finally being arrested. Perry will allow the evidence about Grant's resistance, without any mention of the loaded weapon he had been carrying.

"It's quite disturbing, if you will, that evidence of this prior event is going to come into evidence," Grant family attorney John Burris said. "It's certainly our view that it is more prejudicial than probative."

In a separate ruling, Perry will allow Rains to call a retired police officer as an expert in firearms and Taser use and training. Two judges barred the same testimony from Mehserle's preliminary hearing in Alameda County.

Perry also decided that prosecutors cannot introduce a breath alcohol test form at trial. The district attorney argued that in signing the form, Mehserle effectively admitted that the shooting was not accidental. The judge did not agree.

In other rulings, Perry also decided that police officers could not sit on the Mehserle jury and that spectators cannot wear t-shirts or buttons in support of Grant. (California state law prohibits police officers from sitting on juries in criminal cases, but Mehserle's lawyer had asked the judge to make an exception.)

Perry will decide at a later date whether Rains can call a video expert as part of Meherle's defense. There are at least six amateur videos of the shooting that occurred on the platform at the Fruitvale BART station. Perry also did not preclude either side from introducing evidence of a sexual relationship between the first two officers to arrive on the scene that night, at least as it pertains to their credibility as witnesses and the conflicting statements that one of them has made. Both officers, Tony Pirone and Marysol Domenici, were fired by BART in recent weeks.

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Tags:
BART, johannes mehserle, oscar grant, east bay news, laura anthony
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