Fellow officer says Calif. transit cop thought man had gun
By Terry Collins
OAKLAND, Calif. — A Bay Area transit police officer said right after fatally shooting a man on an Oakland train platform that he thought the man "was going for a gun," a fellow officer testified Wednesday.
Officer Tony Pirone testified for Johannes Mehserle's defense in a preliminary hearing. The defense has said Mehserle accidentally reached for his pistol instead of his stun gun when he shot 22-year-old Oscar Grant.
Mehserle, 27, is charged with murder for shooting Grant in the back while Grant was lying face down on the platform on New Year's Day. He has pleaded not guilty. The hearing is to determine whether he will stand trial.
Grant and other passengers had been pulled aside by officers after a report of fighting on the train.
Pirone said Mehserle had been shouting that he was "going to Tase" Grant and that Mehserle was having trouble trying to handcuff the man. Mehserle told Grant to put his hands behind his back and stop resisting, Pirone said.
But on cross-examination, prosecutors replayed video of the shooting that showed Grant lying face down with both arms behind his back.
"What do you see in that frame?" prosecutor David Stein asked Pirone.
"What appears to be two hands," Pirone said. "It appears to be that way. Yes, sir."
Pirone said after the shot rang out he thought the Taser may have malfunctioned because he didn't see any probes shoot out. But he saw "a black hole" in Grant's back, then looked up at Mehserle, who was holding his pistol.
"It was not something that I expected to see or hear," Pirone said.
Pirone said Mehserle then approached him and said, "Tony, I thought he was going for a gun." He added that Mehserle looked shocked.
Pirone then had Mehserle handcuff Grant, believing he had a weapon. Grant was unarmed.
Grant's mother cried, her face in her hands, while Pirone testified.
John Burris, the Grant family's lawyer, said after the hearing that Mehserle's comment that he thought Grant was going for a gun did not indicate that the shooting was accidental and "throws water on the argument that he intended to use his Taser."
Prosecutors also asked Pirone during cross-examination why officers hadn't searched Grant after taking him off the train. Pirone said officers were outnumbered at the time and that it wasn't protocol to search suspects in that situation.
Other officers and witnesses who have testified during the hearing have described the platform as chaotic, with screaming and shoving by both the officers and Grant's friends. Some eyewitnesses, however, have said Grant never resisted and was cooperative. They described Pirone as the most aggressive officer on the scene.
Pirone said that after Grant was shot and handcuffed, Pirone called for medical help, grabbed Grant's hand and told him to "squeeze me if you hear me." He said Grant gripped his hand.
Asked by Mehserle's attorney, Michael Rains, if Pirone administered CPR, Pirone said he didn't because Grant was conscious and breathing.
"I told (him) to stay with me," Pirone said.