Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff said Wednesday that his office has charged former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle with murder for the New Year’s Day shooting death of 22-year-old Hayward-resident Oscar Grant. “What I feel the evidence indicates is an unlawful killing done by an intentional act,” Orloff said. “There was nothing that would mitigate it to something less than murder.”
The BART Board of Directors took action on Monday to address the growing reaction to the death of Grant, approving a four-member board committee to review BART police actions and to look into possible police reforms. The BART board has come under severe criticism since Grant’s death for perceptions that it did not move fast enough in response to the shooting.
Mehserle, the former BART police officer widely seen on cell-phone camera videos shooting the unarmed Grant in the back, was arrested Tuesday in Nevada near Lake Tahoe. He was transported to the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin after waiving extradition at a hearing Wednesday in Minden, Nev.
Orloff said the fact that Mehserle has declined to talk to investigators about the shooting has made the investigation more difficult. He said if Mehserle had talked, “it could have given me insight into his thought process” during the incident.
At Monday’s special meeting, BART board President Thomas Blalock appointed a four-member BART Police Department Review Committee consisting of board directors Carole Ward Allen as chair and Joel Keller, Lynette Sweet, and Tom Radulovich. Among other things, the committee is charged with reviewing basic training and certification requirements of the BART police force, as well as investigating civilian police review boards and independent police auditors for consideration and possible adoption by BART.
The creation of the board police review committee came at a special meeting in which the BART board discussed, in closed session, a state lawsuit against BART by Grant’s family.
Attorney John Burris, who has filed the $25 million wrongful death claim against BART on behalf of Grant’s family, said Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, is “very happy” that Mehserle has been charged but is still grappling with the fact that her son is gone.
“This investigation shows that no one is above the law but everyone is entitled to due process of the law,” BART Board President Blalock said.
Board member Allen said BART will work to repair its damaged relationship with community members. “We know that this shooting has caused anger and concern in the community,” she said. “We pledge to work with the community to rebuild the trust it has placed in our transit agency.”
While the brief board meeting on Monday lacked the large, emotional crowds and heated speeches that marked last week’s meeting, several speakers did attend and continued to criticize BART, the BART police, and what they perceive as inaction by local law enforcement officials to arrest and charge Mehserle.
One of the speakers was Traci Cooper, who said she was the mother of a 22-year-old man who was one of the men detained with Grant by BART police on the Fruitvale BART station platform on New Year’s Day. Cooper said she was in touch with others who had been detained on the platform.
“The boys are not doing well at all,” Cooper told BART board members, her voice breaking as she talked. “We have taught our children to submit when they are confronted by police. That’s what they did. They submitted, and one of our children was killed.”
Cooper said that many of the witnesses to the Grant shooting death had been traumatized by the event. She also said that her son, whom she would not identify by name, has a metal plate in his head, and, while under arrest at the platform, was threatened by a BART policeman, who put a taser to his head.
“If that taser had gone off, it could have killed my son,” she said. “All of the officers who were on the platform that morning should have been arrested.”
The detention and arrests, and the shooting of Grant, all came after reports of two groups of young men fighting on the BART train that night. The train continued to the Fruitvale station, where it was halted by BART police. BART police or organizational representatives have never revealed how BART police determined which individuals to take off the train and detain at the Fruitvale station, and whether it was ever determined that Grant himself had participated in the fighting.
Bay City News contributed to this report.