06/29/2011

BART to pay $1.3M to Oscar Grant's mom

The settlement between Bay Area Rapid Transit and Wanda Johnson resolves a $50 million wrongful death and civil rights suit

By Terry Collins
Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — A San Francisco Bay area transit agency Tuesday agreed to pay $1.3 million to the mother of a 22-year-old unarmed black man who was fatally shot by a white transit officer in 2009.

The settlement between Bay Area Rapid Transit and Wanda Johnson resolves a $50 million wrongful death and civil rights suit filed in federal court by Oscar Grant's family.

"No amount of money could replace Oscar. Not one dollar or $100 million," said Johnson during a news conference in Oakland. "My heart feels broken for the loss of my son...

"It didn't have to be this way."

Former BART officer Johannes Mehserle, 29, was convicted last year of involuntary manslaughter for fatally shooting Grant on an Oakland train station platform on New Year's Day in 2009.

Mehserle was released this month after serving one year in Los Angeles jail after his high-profile trial was moved to Southern California.

The shooting was recorded by bystanders and within hours videos of the incident were posted online showing Mehserle firing a bullet into the back of Grant as he lay face down after being pulled off a train, supposedly for fighting.

The videos were subsequently used as evidence during Mehserle's murder trial, further stoking the racial tensions brought on by the shooting. Mehserle tearfully testified that he meant to use his stun gun instead of his .40-caliber pistol.

But the shooting continued to spark debate and protests that on occasion turned violent. Last fall, more than 150 people were arrested in Oakland hours after Mehserle's sentencing. The most recent protest was a peaceful march to downtown Oakland a day ahead of Mehserle's June 13 release. Only one arrest was made at that rally.

Dale Allen, an attorney for BART, said the settlement was reached after both sides met multiple times.

"It's a stage where we start to bring closure to a tragedy _ a tragedy for everyone, the Grant family, the Mehserle family," said Allen said. "A tragedy that was an accident, a mistake based on a jury verdict. This settlement will hopefully help everyone move on."

This is the second settlement that BART has reached with the Grant family. The agency agreed to pay $1.5 million to the mother of Grant's 6-year-old daughter last year.

Last month, a federal judge dismissed charges Grant's family raised against BART.

A civil rights suit filed by Grant's friends is still in litigation, said John Burris, Grant's family lawyer.

Burris said Tuesday that while the settlements do not mean an admission of guilt, paying out $2.8 million proves "that something was wrong."

"We have said that we thought that verdict was a miscarriage of justice and the involuntary manslaughter was not a true representation of Mr. Mehserle's conduct," Burris said. "He got away with it."

Grant's uncle, Cephus "Bobby" Johnson, said Tuesday that his family, as well as a foundation in Grant's name, will continue to monitor that BART's proposed police reforms _ including increased officer and firearm training _ actually take shape.

"What's sad for us as a family is we've spoken from day one that we want accountability and an apology," Johnson said. "There's many more battles on this front and we're going to fight it."

Copyright 2011 Associated Press

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