‘Lies in the face of videotape’

( – A former transit officer will stand trial for murder while two of his colleagues, whose actions were questionable during his shooting of an unarmed, detained passenger, have been promoted to a special assignment while on administrative leave.

On June 4, Judge C. Don Clay said that there was no doubt in his mind that Johannes Mehserle meant to shoot Oscar Grant, III, on a station platform on New Year’s Day. Mr. Grant, a 22-year-old Black man, was riding the train with friends into Oakland from San Francisco.


Sources within the courtroom during pretrial testimony told The Final Call that five of more than 30 videotapes that captured the entire incident were entered as evidence and contradicted the testimony of all the police officers on the Fruitvale BART platform that day. Their and Mr. Mehserle’s statements were inconsistent with the evidence early on, the sources said.

Michael Rains, Mr. Mehserle’s attorney, emphasized often that his client was reaching for his taser and not his gun to subdue Mr. Grant, however, Judge Clay noted that if the officer thought he saw a gun, as he had offered, he would have indeed pulled his gun instead of his taser. The attorney does not believe his client can receive a fair trial in Alameda County and plans to request a venue change.

Officer Marysol Domenici testified that some 30-40 angry passengers had gotten off the train, advanced on her, and she feared for her life. She said she would have used lethal force and killed somebody if she had to but the videos told another story, the sources continued.

None of the officers were under any threat or being aggressed upon. When Judge Clay asked her whom she would kill first, she did not reply, Final Call sources said in dismay.


“The videotapes showed the contrary. They showed aggressive police who were aggressive with their hands and aggressive with their mouths, while Oscar Grant and his friends simply attempted to defend themselves by speaking harsh words to law enforcement officers who were handling them with lethal force,” said Nation Of Islam Student Minister Keith Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque 26B in Oakland.

“The media has chosen not to tell the factual story of what’s gone on there. They’ve been a mouthpiece for Mehserle, which is quite interesting because typically they’re anti-defendant. They have put everything out, in my mind, in a way that’s more favorable to his case. They didn’t talk about how the officers just lied. It was unbelievable, the lies in the face of videotape, and how some of them kept with the lies despite videotapes that showed what they were saying was contrary,” said Councilmember Desley Brooks of the 6th District in Oakland.

Mr. Muhammad concurred that all of the officers impeached themselves on the stand. He said testimony revealed that Officer Tony Pirone, the commanding officer on the scene, according to reports, approached the platform aiming his taser weapon at Mr. Grant and his friends without investigating whether or not they had any knowledge of a conflict on the train. When the young men responded to his approach with words, the situation escalated.

“The straw that appeared to break the camel’s back for Johannes Mehserle, who was there for the last three minutes of the 13-minute conflict, was when Off. Anthony Pirone jumped in Oscar Grant’s face and shouted at him, ‘b—h a-s n—-r’ twice,” Mr. Muhammad recounted.

“After laying 500 lbs. of their two bodies on Oscar’s back, Mehserle gets up and pulls his weapon and executes our brother and the judge would not allow for any testimony to be considered valid from Mr. Pirone that he heard that Mehserle declared, ‘I thought he had a gun and I’m going to tase him,’ because no one else heard anything about a taser–weeks later, the taser defense comes,” Mr. Muhammad said.

As the hearing drew to a close, Off. Pirone testified that Mr. Grant posed no threat to him or his fellow officers, reports indicated.

Meanwhile, BART Chief Spokesperson Linton Johnson confirmed with The Final Call that Off. Domenici and Off. Jon Woffinden were granted special assignments teaching policing techniques to other officers.

He said the positions are temporary because they are just training assignments, and there was no increase in salary. The positions are also pending based on the outcome of an internal affairs investigation by the Meyers Nave law firm, as well as an independent department review by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

Although the two were allowed to apply for the assignments with nine colleagues, unlike the others, Mr. Johnson said, they cannot move forward with training while on administrative leave and until the investigations are complete.

“If (Off. Domenici is) teaching people that is very frightening. She’s the one who said she had decided that she was going to shoot anybody. So what might she be teaching people,” said Councilmember Brooks.

According to Mr. Johnson, BART is concerned and getting feedback about the message that these new assignments send to the community. “The bottom line is all officers are entitled to due process and whether anybody’s on leave–maternity leave, family, disability, or any type of leave, we have to treat all officers equally and part of that process is we have to send notification about all temporary assignments to all officers,” he said.

If the investigation turns up something which conflicts with their assignment, they will not be allowed to do it, Mr. Johnson added.

According to Councilmember Brooks, Judge Clay did a very thorough job in terms of making the right calls according to the law, and controlling his courtroom. “He wasn’t allowing Mehserle’s attorney to do the song and dance that he wanted, not for purposes of the preliminary hearing, but to get his message out to a larger community, the media,” Councilmember Brooks told The Final Call.

What happens now, she said, is people have to ensure that policies and procedures are put in place to avoid this situation again and regardless of what happens in the criminal case, the city still needs to be sure that people are safe taking public transportation and that there is accountability for the agencies that provide transportation and all of their employees.

“When you look across the country and you see what is happening with some of these law enforcement agencies, we’ve got to have better standards in terms of who’s able to go into law enforcement. And we really need to make sure that these agencies throughout the country have cultural competency because a lot of this has to do with people being fearful of people that they haven’t grown to know,” said Councilmember Brooks to The Final Call.

Related links:

Fatal shooting of unarmed man sparks outrage (FCN, 01-19-2009)

Web Video of police shooting in Oakland (KTVU Report)

Urban Terrorists in America? (FCN, 03/20/2008)