Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced Monday afternoon that her office would reopen its investigation into the fatal 2009 BART Police shooting of Oscar Grant.
The announcement came as Grant’s family called for the district attorney’s office to revisit the case “in the wake of renewed international attention to the murders of Black men, women, children, and most notably the recent torturous killing of George Floyd.”
“We have listened closely to the requests of the family of Oscar Grant,” O’Malley’s statement read. “The murder of Oscar Grant greatly impacted the county and the state. My Office conducted the intensive investigation that led to the prosecution of BART Officer Johannes Mehserle for the crime of Murder. The trial occurred in Los Angeles due to a change of venue ordered by the court on the motion of the defense.
“Unfortunately, the Los Angeles jury only found Officer Mehserle guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter,” the statement continued. “We are re-opening our investigation. I have assigned a team of lawyers to look back into the circumstances that caused the death of Oscar Grant. We will evaluate the evidence and the law, including the applicable law at the time and the statute of limitations and make a determination.”
Representatives of Grant’s family held a news conference Monday afternoon in front of the mural of Grant at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland to demand that the case be reopened.
In a press release, the Grant family noted that George Floyd was killed beneath the knee of Officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, using the same technique that was used on Grant moments before he was fatally shot to death by BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle.
While Mehserle pulled the trigger, the family noted in the release that it was BART Police Officer Anthony Pirone “who created the climate of violence, pinned Oscar down with a knee on his neck, fracturing bones in Oscar’s face” in addition to using racial epithets against Grant.
A 2009 report on the case by former Oakland City Attorney Jayne Williams and then-attorney Kimberly Colwell of the law firm Meyers Nave found that Pirone, who knelt on Grant’s back and pinned him to the ground, “started a cascade of events that ultimately led to the shooting of Grant.”
The report argued “(o)fficer Pirone’s overly aggressive and unreasonable actions and conduct in violation of policy and acceptable standards contributed substantially to the escalation of the hostile and volatile atmosphere during the course of the incident.”
The family read part of the statement released by O’Malley’s office during the news conference.
#developing Oscar Grants family reading a statement from Nancy O’Malle just as they learned the DAs office will reopen the case. #kpix5pic.twitter.com/h2DpBuHjBz
“We’re not holding our breath, but we definitely will be praying that she sees the truth in this issue,” said Bobby Johnson, Oscar Grant’s uncle, after the announcement was made by the DA’s office.
The slaying took place in the early morning hours of January 1, 2009. Grant and several of his friends were riding BART, returning home from a New Year’s Eve celebration in San Francisco.
When they arrived at Fruitvale Station, BART police were there responding to a report of an unrelated fight.
Officers pulled Grant and his friends from the train. Grant was on his stomach on the platform when officer Johannes Mehserle pulled his service weapon and shot and killed Grant, saying he had mistaken his gun for a Taser.
Mehserle left the BART police department while an internal investigation and one by the Alameda District Attorney’s Office.
He was charged with second degree murder in the death and the trial was moved on a change of venue because of pre-trail publicity to Los Angeles.
A jury convicted Mehserle involuntary manslaughter. He was released after serving about half of his two-year sentence, having been given credit for good conduct in jail.
“We are extremely disappointed with this verdict,” said the family’s attorney John Burris at the time. “The verdict is not a true representative of what happened to Oscar Grant and what the officer did to him that night. This is not an involuntary manslaughter case. This is a true compromise verdict that does not truly and accurately reflect the facts, and we are extraordinarily disappointed at that.”
Burris would also represent the Grant family in a $25 million wrongful death claim against BART. BART settled with Grant’s daughter and mother for a total of $2.8 million in 2011.
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