Thursday, December 2, 2010
A judge sentenced ex-BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle to the minimum term of two years in prison Friday for fatally shooting unarmed train rider Oscar Grant, saying he believed the former officer's testimony that he had confused his pistol for a Taser.
Mehserle, 28, faced as many as 14 years in prison after he was convicted in July of involuntary manslaughter and a separate charge of intentionally firing a gun at Grant at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland early on Jan. 1, 2009. But Judge Robert Perry threw out the firearm conviction before sentencing Mehserle in Los Angeles County Superior Court, saying there was no evidence to support it.
His decision infuriated members of Grant's family, some of whom stalked out of the courtroom before the judge had even finished speaking. Grant's sister, Chantay Moore, exclaimed from the gallery, "Oh, my!"
Afterward, they said the outcome showed that the justice system was stacked against African Americans such as Grant, especially in dealing with white police officers such as Mehserle.
Eligible in 7 months
With credit for time he has already served behind bars, Mehserle will be eligible for release in about seven months. His attorney, Michael Rains, said he will appeal the involuntary manslaughter conviction and in the meantime will try to win Mehserle's release on bail.
Wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and manacles, Mehserle showed little reaction to the sentence, but his family members burst into tears. Rains said Mehserle "told me he felt closer to maybe getting out and seeing his son," who was born a day after the shooting.
The events that led to Friday's sentencing were set in motion by a fight aboard a Dublin-Pleasanton train involving the 22-year-old Grant. BART police who responded to the Fruitvale Station decided to arrest Grant for allegedly resisting officers.
Mehserle testified that he had meant to pull his Taser shock weapon as he sought to handcuff the prone Grant, but instead drew his pistol and shot the Hayward resident once in the back. Several cell phone videos taken by other passengers ensured that the incident would receive national attention.
Though the number of arrests and contacts with the public were at the lowest level in years, Modesto police officers used force more often in 2008 and 2009 than in previous years, and the department saw a 22 percent increase in citizen complaints alleging police misconduct.
Officers resorted to using take-down moves, batons, Tasers, pepper spray or firearms 250 times in 2009, when 15,023 arrests were made, a rate of 1.7 percent.
The use-of-force rate, which tells how often officers use pain or weaponry during an arrest, was 1.5 percent in 2008-09 period, compared with 1.2 percent from 2004 to 2007.
The Police Department also received an increased number of complaints alleging misconduct in 2008 and 2009. Of the 151 complaints, 37 people complained that officers used unreasonable force.
There were 124 citizen complaints in 2006 and 2007, including 30 complaints regarding the force used by officers.
The numbers, though far from conclusive, could fuel public sentiment that the city needs to look closely at how Modesto officers are using force when making arrests or controlling a crowd.
Friday, the city is expected to announce the hiring of a law firm to conduct an administrative investigation of the Police Department.
City management called for the probe based on a letter sent to Police Chief Mike Harden and top city officials a month ago. The unsigned letter, purportedly written by an MPD employee, names officers who are allegedly committing acts of brutality and claims department managers are looking the other way.
City officials have said that details in the letter warrant investigation.