Mehserle convicted of involuntary manslaughter in killing of Oscar Grant

BART transit officer Johannes Mehserle shot Grant in the back as Grant was lying face down on a BART station floor. Multiple cell phone cameras recorded it. He said it was an accident and he meant to use his taser. The jury said it was involuntary manslaughter, the least serious of the possible charges. The sentence is usually 2-4 years, but he could get more because he used a handgun.

Protests are already starting in Oakland. Businesses have closed, buses are being re-routed.

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Involuntary manslaughter might seem an unsatisfying outcome for the killing of the unarmed Oscar Grant on Jan. 1, 2009, but it was consistent with the evidence that could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt against former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle. Anything less would have been an injustice. Anything more would have required conclusions about Mehserle’s state of mind that were not sufficiently supported in trial.

It was a crime, not an accident.

Mehserle was the defendant in Los Angeles Superior Court, but the case also cast a disturbing light on the BART Police Department. Whether Mehserle was unfit for uniform by temperament or unprepared for a high-stress situation by inadequate training, the department cannot escape at least part of the culpability for the outrageous lapse of professionalism on that train platform.

My speculation: Mehserle went temporarily psycho and probably didn’t even realize he drew his gun. He should never have been a cop. Videos taken right after the shooting showed him putting his hands on his head in apparent disbelief. But the taser excuse, which seems flimsy to me, didn’t emerge until days later.

Oscar Grant was not protesting. He was lying on his stomach not moving. It absolutely was a crime. But did Mehserle intend to kill Grant? Without proof of intent, and there was none, then involuntary manslaughter seems the only justifiable verdict, as inadequate as it seems.


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