Judge: Jurors can hear about BART victim's past

Saturday, May 8, 2010


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Oscar Grant was killed in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009.


(05-08) 04:00 PDT Los Angeles - --

Jurors in the upcoming trial of a former BART police officer charged with murdering an unarmed man can hear about an incident in which police reported the man ran from officers and resisted arrest, a judge ruled Friday.

Judge Robert Perry of Los Angeles County Superior Court granted a defense motion to allow some details about the arrest history of Oscar Grant, 22, who was shot in the back and killed at BART's Fruitvale Station in Oakland on New Year's Day 2009.

Former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle, 28, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Grant.

The trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles because of widespread media coverage and racial tensions sparked by the case. Mehserle is white; Grant was African American.

Attorney John Burris, who represents Grant's family, vehemently disagreed with the judge's decision.

"We think it's very hurtful and should not be included because Mehserle was unaware of Mr. Grant's background prior to the fatal shooting," Burris said.

Mehserle's attorney Michael Rains argued that Grant's earlier run-in with the law was relevant to his client's case.

Perry read from a police report accusing Grant of running from San Leandro officers during a traffic stop in October 2006. He was shot with a Taser stun gun and resisted arrest as officers tried to handcuff him, the report says.

Rains has argued that Mehserle intended to stun Grant with his Taser on the Fruitvale Station platform as he arrested him for allegedly resisting police, but that Mehserle pulled his pistol by mistake.

Perry said the earlier incident would help shed light on Grant for jurors.

"I must allow some evidence of this prior incident," Perry said. "The fact he resisted before, and the way he did it before," is important.

Authorities say Grant was carrying a gun in that incident that he tried to get rid of during the foot pursuit.

A .380 pistol was found about 20 feet from the site of the arrest, and Grant was later sentenced to 16 months in state prison for a gun possession charge.

Perry, however, refused to allow testimony at Mehserle's trial that Grant had a gun during the San Leandro incident or that he was on probation when he was killed.

Central questions for jurors in the upcoming trial involve whether Grant was resisting arrest before he was shot and if Mehserle properly used force.

The shooting was videotaped by several bystanders, footage that was shown across the Internet and used as evidence during Mehserle's preliminary hearing last year.

Perry also denied a defense motion to allow police officers to be part of the jury pool. Among his other rulings:

-- Spectators at the trial can't wear supportive ribbons, buttons or T-shirts. "This is not a sporting event," the judge said.

-- Prosecutors can refer to Grant as a victim, and defense attorneys can refer to him as a detainee or arrestee but not as a suspect.

Jury selection is expected to begin June 1, with opening statements on June 14.

This article appeared on page C - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle


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