Despite what has been at times a cluster-fuck of an investigation (see below the fold), the murder trial is on.
After hearing seven days of testimony since May 18, Superior Court Judge C. Don Clay said prosecutors had presented ample evidence to show that (ex-BART police Officer Johannes) Mehserle could be found guilty of murdering Oscar Grant, 22, at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland.
Video of Grant's January 1, 2009 killing has been widely distributed on the internet.
(Also diaried at docudharma.)
I'm heartened that this case will be brought to trial. But I'm still not convinced that this officer will be found guilty.
It's very difficult to bring a police officer to trial for actions taken in the line of duty. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, this is "the first police officer in California in at least 15 years to be charged with an on-the-job murder."
There's been some weird things happening in this case. On my charitable days, I attribute it to ineptness. On other days, I can't help but wonder if there's a cover-up taking place.
For example, despite the fact that there's video of a second officer, Tony Pirone, assaulting Grant before minutes before he was killed, no investigation of the assault was started until a television station aired the video almost 3 weeks later. (See Laughing Planet's diary)
And it was Officer Pirone who testified this week (in the preliminary hearing) that Grant refused to put his hands behind his back before he was shot by Mehserle. If there was no video, they'd probably be successful in making this story stick. Unfortunately for them, there is video:
Asked by defense attorney Michael Rains whether Grant had followed orders to put his hands behind his back after he was forced to the platform on his chest, Pirone replied, "They were not there."
On cross-examination, however, Alameda County prosecutor David Stein had Pirone step off the witness stand and view a flat-panel television mounted in court. Stein played footage of the shooting and froze the frame just after the single shot rang out.
"What do you see in this frame?" Stein asked Pirone, pointing at Grant.
"What appears to be two hands," Pirone responded.
Asked if the video, shot by a San Francisco State University student who had been on Grant's train, showed Grant's hands behind his back, Pirone said, "It appears to be that way, sir."
And the investigation of the killing by BART Police been a clusterfuck. The San Francisco Chronicle and Demian Bulwa have chronicled some of the antics:
BART police allowed a train full of witnesses to pull out of the Fruitvale Station in Oakland ... then made little effort to contact the witnesses as they got off at other stations.
None of the seven officers at (the train station) radioed that an officer-involved shooting had taken place. Supervisors sent to the Fruitvale Station initially were in the dark, while officers at stations down the line did not know to expect a train full of witnesses.
And another officer, not alerted to the situation by radio, managed to stumble onto evidence anyway:
The officers did not announce over their radios that there had been an officer-involved shooting.
According to several sources, a BART lieutenant at the Bay Fair Station in San Leandro obtained critical camera footage from a passenger who had been on the train. The lieutenant, unaware of what was going on, had approached the passenger out of curiosity as the passenger replayed the video.
In deference to the BART police, it hasn't helped that Mehserle quit the force so he wouldn't have to answer questions by internal affairs. But to me, that just points out a serious flaw in the way alleged police brutality is investigated. There needs to be a means to investigate, in the same manner that any crime would be investigated. There should be no loopholes that stymie an investigation.