Friday, June 5, 2009

Judge Prejudices Hearing - BART Shooting

The San Francisco Chronicle reported this morning that Judge C. Don Clay suddenly suspended the pre-trial hearing in the case against BART Police Office Johannes Mehserle for the shooting death of Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale Station in the wee hours of New Years'. Right in the middle of testimony being conducted by Mehserle's Defense Lawyers, with an expert witness, regarding intepretation of the video, the judge raised his hand and said "There's no doubt in my mind that Mr. Mehserle intended to shoot Oscar Grant with a gun and not a Taser."
Several weeks ago, the topic of Taser use was initiated on this blog. The widespread adoption of their use by police authorities across the nation has raised many grave concerns. One of the most crucial, is the potential for confusion between electronic "stun guns" and regular service revolvers (pistols).

The video does nothing to establish conclusively exactly why or whether Mehserle "decided" to shoot Grant in the first place. Amateur video recordings of the event, taken from a distance of perhaps 30 feet, appear to show several officers attempting to subdue a group of African American teenagers who had been detained following a ruckus on the BART system. There is screaming and shouting from dozens of patrons on the platform and standing in the open train-car doorways. There's an atmosphere of raucousness and menace. Even a professionally trained peace officer, would have had trouble not feeling intimidated under these circumstances. Was any of these unruly young thugs carrying weapons? The officers certainly wouldn't have known, without searching them first. In the mood of the hour, it would have been prudent to assume that almost anyone at the scene was armed, and, given the angry confusion, capable of opening up on the the officers. 

There are only three possible ways one can assume the shooting occurred:

1) Mehserle thought Grant might have a gun tucked into his pants, and that he was squirming around trying to get into position to pull it out, and pulled out either his Taser or pistol in self-defense. 
2) Mehserle, unable to get Grant's hands into cuffs, got frustrated and decided to Tase him, reaching mistakenly for his gun (instead) and plugging him in the back.
3) Mehserle, aroused and upset by all the shouting and scuffling, and Grant's uncooperativeness, lost his temper (or his cool) and simply decided to shoot him. 

Under circumstances like these, it's important to remember that people don't always act rationally. Surrounded by half a dozen Black youths, all of them drunk or high, "acting up" and threatening, half-resisting arrest, blurting out racial epithets, with dozens more by-standers screaming and dancing around, is it any wonder that an officer might become confused, scared, angry, frustrated, or simply disoriented?

In order to buy the "deliberate" shooting version, you'd either have to accept that he actually thought that Grant was packing (is that an implausible suspicion, given the circumstances?), or that Mehserle simply went berserk. 

Considering the range of possible interpretations of the incident, and looking at the available video versions, it's highly prejudicial for any officer of the court to conclude, privately or publicly, that Mehserle's actions, insofar as they are known to us at this point, lead to a conclusion that he "intended to use his gun." Judge Clay's statement in open court, and his peremptory suspension of the hearing, are clearly prejudicial in every possible sense.

Judge Clay should be reprimanded, and the whole matter should be re-tried. He has probably ruined any chance that Mehserle can be fairly tried in the immediate area. 

This isn't justice, it's a lynch-mob mentality. 


Kirby Olson said...

But perhaps Mehserle will now be released on a technicality, which is perhaps what the judge intended?

It's really hard to second guess other people that you don't even know. Each person is individual.

I wuold make a lousy police officer. God knows what I would have done. Just run, perhaps. Those guns are unbelievably brave.

The judge would have never faced anything like that in his whole privileged life.

I remember when Rodney King was beaten. An upper class theorist named Judith Butler was talking at the U. of Washington, and blamed the officers, and thought she would have done so much better.

Who knows how you'd react? all adrenalin, and terror, and all you want is to get home to your family every night. It's a miracle anybody wants to be a police officer.

I could never even pull a car over for a routine traffic stop. This would require unbelievable heroism.

Curtis Faville said...

I'm not suggesting that Mehserle is innocent.

Obviously, something went terribly wrong.

But no responsible officer of the court should state in open proceedings a prejudicial opinion about the facts at issue in a case of this kind.

It's the most outrageous thing I've ever seen reported about a judicial proceeding. This judge has shown himself incapable of ruling with any fairness in the case, and the venue will now have to be changed.

When O.J. Simpson was acquited, despite overwhelming evidence against him, it was seen as a racial "pay-back" for perceived inequalities in the past. The Black Community needs to take some responsibility for situations in which established authority is intimidated. If you're going to take the position that race is the key issue in these confrontations, there's a parallel responsibility to see that "your people" respect an objective framework of behavior and law. Otherwise you're just advocating open conflict and mob rule.

Unknown said...
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Curtis Faville said...


I don't know how it is in your community, but the Black Community in Oakland is a well-recognized entity, which is routinely referred to in the press, and is constantly referred to in debates and discussions with respect to crime, police policy, economic incentives, employment, etc.

Maybe your sarcasm indicates a cynicism with respect to the possibility of solidarity within the Black Community. Or maybe it's because you're just dissing any reference as fake. I have no idea.

Ha ha ha ha.

Guess what I'm laughing at.

Unknown said...
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Kirby Olson said...

I don't like Georgie's methods of argument. He doesn't offer proofs. He can't seemingly argue. He just gets on a high horse and screeches mean stuff. It would be better if he could think just a little bit, and argue more politely. He can't do this, though.

Anonymous said...

Georgie Porgie
Puddin n Pie

Kissed the Girls
And made them cry

Then, I'm tellin
The Truth:

All The Girls
Ran away with

The Spoon:
Ed Baker

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Curtis Faville said...


Your comments are always welcome.

But I will say that I do not like anonymous disparaging commentary. It's okay to be accusative, perhaps even rude, but I'd prefer that if you do that, you take responsibility for your identity. It isn't fair to attack real people under the guise of a pseudonym.


Unknown said...
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jh said...

i'd like to know at least by way of assessment
what that last deleted comment was about