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Calif. transit officer involved in BART shooting is arrested

Johannes Mehserle, right, appeares in the East Fork Justice Court on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009, in Minden, Nev. Mehserle is being held on charges related to the New Year's day shooting of an unarmed man on an Oakland, Calif., train platform. (AP Photo)

By Matthew Yi, Henry K. Lee
San Francisco Chronicle

OAKLAND — Johannes Mehserle, the former BART police officer arrested on suspicion of murdering an unarmed passenger on an Oakland train platform early New Year's Day, waived extradition at a Nevada hearing and will be returned to Alameda County sometime today.

Mehserle, 27, appeared stoic as he was brought into a Douglas County, Nev., courtroom. Clad in a navy-blue jail jumpsuit and his hands and feet shackled, he said, "I'd like to waive extradition," when asked what his intentions were by Judge Paul Gilbert.

The hearing lasted about five minutes. Mehserle's attorney, Christopher Miller, declined comment but said he would hold a news conference at his Sacramento office at 3 p.m. today.

Mehserle, a Lafayette resident, was arrested Tuesday evening at a home on Skyland Drive in the Zephyr Cove area near Lake Tahoe, authorities said.

"We were contacted by authorities in the Bay Area, and all we did was to help locate the suspect," Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini said today.

The ex-officer is being held in connection with the shooting of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old supermarket worker from Hayward who was lying facedown after being pulled off a BART train by police investigating a fight.

An Alameda County judge signed an arrest warrant alleging murder, and Mehserle surrendered without incident, authorities said. He is being kept in a segregated area of the jail facility and is on a precautionary health and welfare watch, authorities said.

Sources said Mehserle was in Nevada because he feared for his safety after death threats were made against him.

The shooting, which was recorded by passengers in videos widely circulated on the Internet and television, prompted public outrage, and some viewers said that the shooting appeared to be an execution. Some city and community leaders have joined protesters in denouncing BART's handling of the investigation.

Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff has scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m. today to discuss the case.

BART officers had detained Grant and several other passengers at about 2 a.m. on Jan. 1 as they investigated a fight aboard a train from San Francisco. Passengers with cellular phone cameras captured footage that shows Grant lying facedown when he was shot.

In the videos, Mehserle appears to be trying to put cuffs on Grant, and Grant appears to be struggling, when Mehserle suddenly pulls his service weapon from his holster and fires one shot into Grant's back.

Mehserle declined to speak to BART criminal investigators after the shooting. Then last Wednesday he resigned rather than answer questions from BART's internal affairs division.

His departure came the same day Grant was buried and a peaceful protest at the Fruitvale BART Station erupted into violence in downtown Oakland. Demonstrators set cars on fire and broke windows at dozens of businesses. By night's end, police had arrested 105 people.

Another protest is still scheduled for 4 p.m. today outside Oakland City Hall.

Copyright 2009 San Francisco Chronicle



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