Johannes Mehserle answering tough questions under cross examination
By Alex Alonso
STREETGANGS.COM STAFF WRITER
June 27, 2010 | 11:49 p.m
LOS ANGELES – In his second day of testimony Johannes Mehserle, the former BART officer that is accused of murder, described the events that led up to the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant. Under direct examination he explained that he did not mean to shoot his firearm but rather fire his TASER© when he shot Grant. Defense attorney Michael Rains outlined several points that on the surface suggest that some sort of mistake was made.
Mehserle talked about creating space between himself and Grant before firing, which is typical when using a TASER©. For the prongs to create Neuromuscular Incapacitation (NMI) they need to land four inches apart and if you are too close to the subject maximum incapacitation will not be reached. Forensic Image Analyst Michael Schott testified that the video showed Mehserle moving his thumb across his gun in the same motion required to engage the TASER© weapon, a movement not required with his firearm. The act of immediately re-holstering his weapon and the reaction he had instantly after he shot Grant are all circumstances that Rains wants the jury to consider during deliberations.
Approximately 30 minutes into his testimony, Mehserle began to show emotion when explaining his actions when he shot Grant in his back with his firearm when he intended to use his TASER© according to him. Grant’s family, watching the trial were not impressed with Mehserle’s emotional display, and out of frustration Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, dashed out the court room to gather her emotions. Shortly after that, a Grant supporter could not contain his emotions and shouted out to Mehserle, “You should save those fucking tears.” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies took Timothy Dewayne Killings, 26, of Oakland into custody for contempt of court and he was escorted out the courtroom in handcuffs. He is being held without bail for this misdemeanor offense and has his first court appearance is scheduled for Tuesday.
Judge Robert Perry was clearly frustrated with the courtroom outburst and had an early morning break of testimony. He warned that he would clear the entire court room, including the media, if there were anymore outbursts. Twenty minutes later Mehserle took the stand and continued under direct examination.
Mehserle stated that he thought that Grant was reaching for a gun and that he saw his right hand go into his right pocket. Rains then asked Mehserle to go through three previous incidents where he actually apprehended suspects that were armed with hand guns in their right front pockets. On May 18, 2007, October 18, 2007 and December 12, 2008 were all incidents were Mehserle was involved in arresting suspects who were armed with a weapon in their right front pocket and based on those experiences, he was certain that not only was Grant going into his front right pocket, he was also going for a weapon. Because Mehserle believed that Grant had a gun, he testified that he felt that using his TASER© would be the most effective force option.
Mehserle testified that after he shot Grant, he responded, “you shot me,” and that he was trying to calm him down. Grant remained conscious but then started closing his eyes. Mehserle continued that he was scared because this wasn’t supposed to happen. He appeared to get emotional again as he described Grant’s last moments on the platform as he was slowly dying from excessive internal bleeding. Rains was letting him describe his interaction but Judge Perry interrupted and told Mehserle to wait for a question, as Mehserle was using this opportunity to empathetically express his concern for what happened by showing emotions in front of the jury again. In conclusion under direct, Rains asked Mehserle, “Did you intend to shoot Oscar Grant?” In response Mehserle stated “no” and that his intention was “to taze him.”
Prosecutor David Stein wasted no time directly asking Mehserle about how much time did he prepared for his testimony. Several observers including Oscar Grant’s mother Wanda Johnson believe that Mehserle’s testimony was rehearsed and planned during the last year. Stein asked how many hours of preparation went into the testimony, what witnesses did you speak to, what materials did you read, what videos did you exam, and what recorded interviews did you listen to. Mehserle was extremely evasive but he remained calm through out Stein’s tough questions.
One evasive answer he gave was when Stein asked, “Have you spoke to any witnesses about their testimony” and he replied, “Not sure what their testimony is,” completely avoiding the question but trying not to lie. Mehserle also denied reviewing any of the several videos that captured him shooting Grant, stating, “The only time I see it is in court.”
Stein began to ask questions about the quality of training Mehserle received from the Napa Police Academy when he was a cadet. Part of his defense is to argue that he received sub par training especially as it relates to the TASER© training he received one month prior the shooting death of Grant. On Thursday he testified that he did not get adequate training on the three methods of carrying the TASER© and that he did not get to practice with his TASER© as he was able to do with his firearm. Mehserle received the same training that all other officers in his unit received and the defense never showed that the training was flawed in anyway. The training emphasized not to wear the TASER© on the same side as the firearm, but they allowed the officer to choose which of the three methods they were most comfortable with, and Mehserle testified that he was still trying to figure out what was best for him.
When asked by prosecutor Stein what else could have been covered by the Napa Police Academy during his 870 hours that was not covered, and he did not have an answer. Additionally, Napa was not responsible for the TASER© training. Mehserle received additional training from BART after he was sworn in as an officer. Although Mehserle stated that the training was adequate, when asked if there was anything deficient in Sgt. Eugene Wong’s training, after a very long pause, he stated that he wish he had more training in defensive tactics. Stein asked if he agreed with Sgt. Clark from Napa regarding the principle that every officer is responsible for firearm safety and Mehserle agreed.
Stein asked if he kept his emotions in check on January 1, 2009 and although he replied that he did, he was tentative in his response. Stein wanted to understand why Mehserle had pulled out his TASER© when he arrived on the platform and we learned that he drew it because he saw Pirone with his. Stein was able to get Mehserle to admit that there was nothing that Grant or his friends did on the platform that warranted him pulling his TASER©.
The most compelling portion of the cross examination is when Stein was asking Mehserle about the gun that he believed Grant had in his front right pocket. According to Mehserle, Grant was reaching into his pocket when he was down on the ground and he felt Grant was reaching for a gun. Mehserle stated that he gave Grant commands, but Stein pointed out that none of the videos reveal you giving any commands. Stein asked, “Have you ever heard yourself shouting commands to Oscar Grant?” Mehserle reluctantly replied, “No sir.” Stein methodically showed footage from Tommy Cross’s video in slow motion, and kept asking Mehserle if and when did Grant reach into pocket and go for a weapon, and Mehserle could not pinpoint any moment that looked like Grant reaching for a weapon.
Mehserle stated that he was trying to pull his arm, but Stein asked why would you want to pull an arm out from Grant if you believed that he was holding a gun in that hand. If Grant really did have a gun and he spun around that would be an even worse situation for a police officer Stein explained. Mehserle agreed, and explained that’s why he wanted to use the TASER©. Stein then illustrated that even though Mehserle believed that Grant had a gun, he never yelled out to his fellow officers that he had a gun. Additionally, Mehserle was trained to yell TASER© before shooting that weapon and although he testified that he said he was going to use TASER©, the video does not reveal that he said such a thing. Near the end of his cross examination he was able get Mehserle to admit that Grant could not be seen on any video resisting.
Stein closed his cross examination on inquiring about how the shooting of Grant with his firearm was an accident. Stein is arguing that Mehserle meant to shoot Grant deliberately and he is using his own words to support that. Immediately after the shooting, Mehserle told a surprised Pirone, “Tony, I thought he was going for a gun.” The former BART officer had testified during this trial and at the preliminary hearing last year that Mehserle told him he thought Grant was reaching for a weapon. Mehserle told Stein that he did not remember saying that on January 1, 2009. More incriminating is that he never told Pirone, his partner Officer Woffinden or any other BART officer on the platform that he made a mistake and meant to use his TASER©. Stein was effective in getting Mehserle to admit that he never told anyone that it was an accident or that he meant to use his TASER©. Mehserle never radioed that he was involved in an officer involved shooting and he never called for medical attention for Grant which questions his credibility and his reliability to accurately recall the events that day.
Stein played the silent BART platform video that showed Mehserle talking to BART officer Emery Knudtson who was on the platform during the shooting and he never told him it was an accident or anything about using his TASER©. The video later showed the arrival of Lt. Franklin and Sgt. Alvarez both talking to Mehserle on the platform. Stein asked, “What where the three of you talking about?” He didn’t remember but it certainly was not about the shooting being an accident.
The defense is expected to close their case on Monday and the prosecution is expected to put on a rebuttal witness. The case is expected to close on Tuesday with closing arguments Thursday.
Alex Alonso is an author, film maker and founder of Streetgangs.com. 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.
Tags: anthony pirone, BART shooting, Chela Simone, fruitvale, Johannes Mehserle, JR Valrey, Marysol Domenici, oakland, Oscar Grant, San Francisco, timothy killings