Prosecutors rested Monday in the murder case against a former transit police officer who fatally shot an unarmed subway passenger in Oakland, capping seven days of testimony that appeared at times to help the defense as well as the prosecution.
Alameda County Deputy Dist. Atty. David R. Stein wrapped up his portion of the trial a few hours after showing a downtown Los Angeles jury a synchronized version of six videos that captured the events surrounding the killing of Oscar J. Grant III.
The footage — most of which was taken by BART train passengers — shows Johannes Mehserle firing a single gunshot into Grant’s back as the grocery store butcher lay on a station platform.
The soft-spoken Stein noted in court that platform surveillance footage shows Mehserle talking to other officers soon after the shooting. Stein said the officer never told his colleagues that the shooting was accidental or that he meant to fire his electric Taser weapon, as Mehserle now contends.
The prosecution will have the chance to call more witnesses in the trial’s rebuttal phase once the defense completes its case.
Defense attorney Michael L. Rains has argued that the shooting was a tragic mistake in which his client mistook his handgun for a Taser. He has blamed poor training by the BART Police Department and accused Grant and a group of his friends of assaulting officers and resisting arrest when police responded to reports of a fight on their train.
Rains focused Monday on police radio recordings that were part of the prosecution’s synchronized video to suggest that officers felt threatened on the Fruitvale Station platform on the night of the shooting. In the recordings, an officer appears to tell a dispatcher that a crowd was surrounding officers and the dispatcher declares an emergency to keep police radio channels open for officers on the platform.
Grant’s death early New Year’s Day 2009 sparked protests and violence in Oakland. Mehserle resigned a week later without explaining his actions.
The racially tinged case — Mehserle is white, Grant was black — has drawn comparisons to the 1992 trial of four Los Angeles police officers accused of beating Rodney G. King. Mehserle’s trial was moved to Los Angeles amid concerns about extensive media coverage of the shooting in the Bay Area.
Grant’s uncle, Cephus Johnson, expressed hope outside court that prosecutors would still call the officers who spoke to Mehserle after the shooting and that jurors would carefully review the video footage.
“If the video is played and the evidence is presented, the verdict will be favorable,” said Johnson, who has attended the entire trial.
During the trial, Stein sought to bolster the video evidence with firsthand accounts of the night’s events from passengers on the train, many of whom did not know Grant. Witnesses described their shock at the behavior of one of the BART officers, Anthony Pirone, who detained Grant and a group of his friends as suspects in the train fight.
Pamela Caneva, for example, told jurors last week that Pirone was “very angry, very hostile, very mean” and used force on Grant and his friends even though they were largely cooperative. But like other passengers, Caneva testified that Mehserle looked shocked after he shot Grant and that he raised his hands to his head as if in disbelief.
Stein has cast doubt on Mehserle’s defense, noting that his holster was specially designed to prevent easy release of his Sig Sauer handgun.
Prosecution experts testified last week about the training Mehserle received in handling confrontations and using his firearm. BART Police Sgt. Paul Garcia demonstrated for jurors how Mehserle would have had to push down and forward to move a rotating hood out of the way and then push back on a lever with his thumb to draw his firearm.
But Garcia also testified that Mehserle had been trained in using a Taser less than a month before the shooting and was never trained on switching between his electronic weapon and his handgun.