( – Attorneys for a former Bay Area Transit District officer who fatally shot a handcuffed and unarmed Black passenger in Oakland have requested a change of venue, claiming a racial divide makes it impossible for their client to receive a fair trial.

Hearings on the change of venue request are set to begin Oct. 2.

Attorney Michael Raines argued Sept. 11 that the case should be moved out of Alameda County because Blacks have already concluded Johannes Mehserle should be convicted of murder. Mr. Mehserle shot Oscar Grant, III on a station platform Jan. 1. The shooting was captured on cell phone videos and drew worldwide media attention.


Atty. Raines argued historic conflicts between Blacks and the police in Oakland would keep him from finding impartial Blacks for the jury pool.

“We should not be surprised but the change of venue motion spent more time trying to explain our activism more than anything else. Rather than defending his client, his argument is our activism and he claims that the conscious and deliberate response of elected officials have made it impossible to have a fair trial in Alameda County,” said Student Minister Keith Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 26B in Oakland.

The lawyers’ reasoning says Blacks cannot serve on a jury and are not intelligent enough to make a fair decision when a White officer shoots a Black man, he added.

During his argument, Atty. Raines presented a poll which indicated that 78 percent of Blacks surveyed declared Mr. Mehserle guilty. The research team interviewed approximately 400 residents, who were selected randomly. Forty-six percent of the residents said he was probably or definitely guilty while 27 percent said he was definitely or probably not guilty.

“In a county of over one million people, that’s an exceedingly small sample, and to be frank about it, he may have interviewed only three people. We don’t know how many he actually interviewed,” Min. Muhammad argued.

Meanwhile, a bill that would have amended the BART Act, the department’s governing document, failed to pass the State Legislature.

BART had pushed for the Legislature to adopt the bill before its session closed this month, but fortunately, community activists say, it didn’t.

After a press conference urging support for the bill, some members of the BART board of directors and the community coalition that helped to draft it learned a different version of their bill had been submitted.

BART had dropped language that would have authorized citizen oversight and discipline powers outside of the chief of police and general manager, they said. BART was disingenuous and whomever decided to remove the true citizen oversight component has caused dissension among the BART board and showed the agency’s true intentions, they said.

Lynton Johnson, BART communications director, told The Final Call that it didn’t remove any language, the section just was not included in the final bill. On the recommendation of some lawmakers, BART decided to present a bill with elements that had a full consensus of its board to ensure it passed, and there was a small amount of time to get the bill through, he added.

Mr. Johnson said the bill would be re-presented for approval in the January session.

Related news:

Civilian review board for Bay area’s rapid transit department (FCN, 09-07-2009)

Community leaders accuse officers of lying in Oscar Grant shooting case (FCN, 07-02-2009)

Fatal shooting of unarmed man sparks outrage (FCN, 07-19-2009)