How race influenced the detention of Oscar Grant and friends by BART officers

By Alex A. Alonso
June 22, 2010 | 3:01 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — In day eight of testimony in the murder trial of Johannes Mehserle, the former BART police officer accused of killing Oscar Grant, we heard again about the fight that occurred in the lead car of the Dublin bound train on January 1, 2009. On Tuesday we learned through defense witnesses Agnes Zafiratos and her husband Dennis Zafiratos that David, a white man, had Grant, a black male in a headlock on the car between Lake Merritt and the Fruitvale stations on BART. They characterized this conflict as a fight, shoving match and wrestling that occurred in the lead car between the two men. Ms. Zafiratos described the people fighting as white, black and Hispanic and further stated that the white man, known as Diesel, stood out because he was fair, and wearing a large white T-shirt.

Early in her testimony she said that the fight included five to three to two people, but when asked by defense attorney Michael Rains how many people were involved in the fight when it escalated, she stated that seven to 10 people were involved. The husband also testified that it was 10 or more people involved in the fight but when they reported the fight to the train operator they stated that it was five people involved. When asked whom did David have in the headlock, she had no description of the person, but her husband stated that David had a black male in the headlock. According to Grant’s friend Jackie Bryson, who testified on Tuesday also, it was Grant that David was fighting with.

It was surprising to hear that according to Agnus and her husband who had a decent view of this fight, that it was David acting as the aggressor, not Grant as the defense seemed to suggest earlier in the trial. Grant had his head locked by David, who was encouraging more conflict on that platform when the train pulled into Fruitvale station according to witness Jamiel Dewar.

Also extremely perplexing is the description that the husband provided to the train operator of the people involved in this fight. The call that went out to the BART officers described a fight among 5 black males wearing black cloths. This description came from the Zafiratos who witnessed blacks, Hispanics and an additional white male as the aggressor, but they only informed the train operator that black males were involved. Dennis claimed that he did not realized that David, the white male, had Grant in a headlock until he moved into the second car, but that was the main part of the conflict, and he claimed he was “right there” when prosecutor Stein asked him how close he was to the initial fight when it began. Agnes, from her position sitting in a rear seat, stated she could see the white male, but her husband, who was positioned even closer, claims that he could not see him therefore did not mention the white male to the train operator.

Agnes testified that her husband Dennis “went forward towards the fight” but never reported to the train operator that the fight was among Hispanics, blacks and a white male as the aggressor. The several BART officers responding, only believed that the ruckus on the train was caused by five black males in dark clothing so BART officers were not aware that other racial groups were involved in the conflict. When Officer Anthony Pirone responded, all his aggression, anger and frustration was targeted towards Grant and Michael Greer who re-boarded the train. David was hiding on the train in car three, but the Zafiratos only reported the actions of the black males, giving David a pass from police contact. Unfortunately, neither Agnes or Dennis Zafiratos told the train operator that it was the white male that had a black male in a head lock as he was punching him, possibly changing the events that took place on the platform that morning.

Alex Alonso is an author, film maker and founder of He is also a contributing author in the 2010 book entitled “Black Los Angeles: American Dreams Racial Realities” (New York University Press). He can be reached via email, toll free at 800-249-1324 or on Twitter.

Posted by on Jun 22 2010. Filed under Features, People of CA v. Johannes Mehserle. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Comments for “How race influenced the detention of Oscar Grant and friends by BART officers”

  1. downtown

    this guy looks racist and that’s why he will walk.

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