One thing’s for sure: BART security guard Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant. What the jury wants to know: was it a mistake? Mehserle claims he meant to Tase Grant, rather than drill him in the back with a nine mil. “I didn’t think I had my gun,” Mehserle testified under questioning on Friday. “I remember the pop wasn’t very loud, it wasn’t like a gun shot. I remember wondering what went wrong with the Taser? [I] thought the Taser had malfunctioned . . . I remember looking at my right hand and seeing my gun . . . [Mehserle sobs, regains control] . . . I remember Mr. Grant saying, ‘You shot me . . .'”
At this point, someone in the courtroom yelled out “Maybe you should fucking save those tears.” The judge ordered everyone out. Recess. Lecture. Etc. The question remains: how plausible was Mehserle’s testimony?
The back story [via baycitizen.org] does not work in his favor.
Mehserle testified that when he arrived at the Fruitvale station, Grant and his friend Jackie Bryson were upset with Tony Pirone. The prosecution centered much of its case around the ex-BART officer, one of the first to arrive on the scene. Pirone was captured on video calling Grant a “bitch ass nigger” and some witnesses testified that he was hostile to Grant and his friends.
“I told [Grant] calm down, we’d figure it out,” Mehserle said.
Pirone ordered Mehserle to arrest Grant and Bryson for obstructing a police officer. Mehserle didn’t think Pirone had made the right call but chose not to question his colleague.
“I just followed … the order,” he said.
Mehserle’s argument is that Grant was resisting arrest and ignoring commands. Mehserle testified that when he saw Grant reach into his pocket, he thought he might be reaching for a gun. Grant was face down on the train platform.
To subdue Grant, Mehserle said he reached for his Taser. But instead he drew his pistol.
Off-the-record, law enforcement officials will tell you: cops make mistakes. In the heat of the moment, with adrenalin reducing their ability to make subtle judgements, they fuck up.
That’s why training is so important. The trick is not to think. If a police officer has been trained to the point where they have subconscious stimulus – response pattern for a particular situation, they will react appropriately. Or not. If the training’s bad. As in incomplete.
I want to know two things about the Mehserle case. First, was the officer trained to Tase a suspect lying face down reaching into his pocket? That doesn’t strike me as an appropriate reaction. Surely grabbing or immobilizing the suspect’s arm would have been more effective.
A Taser is best used from a distance to initially subdue a perp. If Mehserle thought he was about to be assaulted, he should have moved away from the suspect to create enough distance to remain safe and shoot Grant. Same rule for a Taser or a gun. Did he do so?
Second, did the cops train Mehserle in weapons transition? The people who prepare police for active duty aren’t stupid; they know a cop has a lot of shit on his belt. They know an officer could grab the wrong weapon in the heat of the moment—and die. Not to mention shoot someone they meant to Tase.
‘Cause that’s so highly improbable. And yet, the idea that Mehserle shot Grant in cold blood is equally unlikely. I don’t envy the jury on this one.