By Paul Elias
SAN FRANCISCO — A former Northern California transit officer cried on the witness stand Friday while describing how he shot and killed an unarmed man on a train station platform more than five years ago.
Johannes Mehserle testified in federal court in San Francisco that he meant to use his Taser rather than his gun to subdue an already handcuffed Oscar Grant on New Year's Day in 2009.
Mehserle was testifying in a civil rights lawsuit filed by Grant's father against Mehserle, the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency and other defendants.
The shooting occurred as authorities were responding to a chaotic scene on the Fruitvale station platform in Oakland. It has sparked racial tension because Mehserle is white and the 22-year-old Grant was black. The incident was depicted in director Ryan Coogler's feature film "Fruitvale Station."
Mehserle denied Friday that race or animus had anything to do with the shooting. He said he wasn't angry while trying to arrest Grant and is still confused about why he pulled his gun instead of his Taser.
"I'm still trying to process everything," Mehserle said. "How did this happen?"
Mehserle cried when he recalled seeing a bullet hole in Grant's back and realizing he had shot the suspect.
"I wasn't trying to shoot him," Mehserle said.
Mehserle quit the BART police department a week after the shooting. He was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served about half of his two-year sentence in a Los Angeles County jail.
The father, Oscar Grant Jr., is seeking unspecified damages. He is currently serving a life sentence in state prison after being convicted of a 1985 killing. Two California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation guards escort him to court each day.
BART settled a separate lawsuit filed by Grant's mother and daughter for $2. 8 million. Another civil case filed by friends of Grant who were present on the train platform was settled for $175,000.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press