November 5th, 2010

BART Officer Sentenced to Two Years in Fatal Shooting of Oscar Grant

On January 1, 2009, Johannes Mehserle and other officers responded to calls about a fight at a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in the San Francisco bay area. The officers detained Oscar Grant, a twenty-two-year-old black man, and several other young black male passengers on the Fruitvale Station platform in Oakland, California. Hundreds of passengers in a stopped train watched the heated encounter and some recorded the events with cell phone cameras. While Mehserle and another officer held Grant face down on the ground, Mehserle stood, drew his gun, and shot Grant once in the back at close range. Grant died from his injuries later that day.

Cell phone video footage was distributed to various media outlets and uploaded to YouTube, enabling millions to watch the tragic events online. Oscar Grant’s death sparked riots and civil unrest provoked by the lack of accountability for police officers who target minorities with excessive force.

One week after the fatal shooting, Mehserle resigned and was charged with murder. He pleaded not guilty. At trial, he claimed he intended to use his stun gun on Grant and realized he had accidentally pulled his gun only after he pulled the trigger. Mehserle testified that Grant was also surprised, and yelled out, “You shot me!”

The jury convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter, a lesser offense. On November 5, 2010, he was sentenced to two years in prison. Further riots erupted following Mehserle’s sentencing, as community members complained it was too lenient. With credit for time served, Mehserle was released in June 2011.