06/10/2011

Ex-cop in Calif. transit shooting death to be released

Johannes Mehserle is scheduled to be set free Monday

By Terry Collins
Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — A white former San Francisco Bay area transit officer convicted of fatally shooting an unarmed black man is expected to be released from jail next week after serving 11 months of a two-year sentence.

Johannes Mehserle is scheduled to be set free Monday from a Los Angeles County jail where he served his time after his high-profile trial was moved to Southern California last year.

"We've been informed that he will be released sometime that day," Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Teresa Drenick said Thursday.

Mehserle's attorney, Michael Rains, declined to comment Thursday on his client's pending release. Rains recently said in published reports that Mehserle is ready to move on with his life.

But there could be backlash, as another series of rallies and protests will be held in both Los Angeles and Oakland before and after Mehserle's release.

Mehserle, 29, was convicted last July in the shooting death of Oscar Grant on an Oakland train station platform on New Year's Day 2009. The incident was recorded by bystanders, and video posted online showed the Bay Area Rapid Transit officer firing a single bullet into the back of Grant, 22, as he lay face down after being pulled off a train for allegedly fighting.

The videos were subsequently used as evidence during Mehserle's murder trial.

Facing a second-degree murder charge and a maximum 14 years in prison, Mehserle tearfully testified at his trial that he meant to use his stun gun instead of his .40-caliber pistol.

Jurors found that while Mehserle didn't mean to kill Grant, his behavior was so negligent that it was criminal. He received a two-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter.

Grant's uncle, Cephus "Bobby" Johnson, said Thursday that the shooting still tears at his family more than two years later.

"What really hurts is that we are just expected to get on with our lives. How can we?" Johnson said. "We've been dealt with a racist criminal justice system that has denied our true rights to justice."

Johnson added that a civil lawsuit filed against Mehserle, BART and two of its officers remains scheduled to be heard by a jury sometime this year.

The shooting still continues to spark debate, racial tensions and occasional protests that turn violent. Last fall, more than 150 people were arrested in Oakland hours after Mehserle's sentencing.

A town hall meeting is scheduled in Los Angeles on Saturday, and a protest is scheduled in Oakland on Sunday. On Monday, Grant supporters in both cities plan to march to their respective U.S. attorneys' offices and demand that the Department of Justice look into possible federal prosecution.

"I hope what happens is that we stand together, share our experiences and speak to the injustices that occur in our communities," Johnson said. "Voices can be heard when there's unity."

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said Thursday that she is encouraging peaceful demonstrations as police will be ready for any disruptions.

"Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Oscar Grant who are still grieving their tragic loss. Nothing can bring back their loved one," Quan said in a written statement. "Although we expect peaceful gatherings, we do not anticipate nor will we tolerate vandalism or violence."

Copyright 2011 Associated Press

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