Oscar Grant Update: Johannes Mehserle Trial To Move to Another California City; Judge Agrees That Oakland and Alameda County Can’t Give Him a Fair Trial

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Simi Valley, anyone?

If this trial doesn’t go to a city like Los Angeles or Sacramento, and if it goes to some predominantly-white, gated, Rush/Hannity/Beck, cop-loving town, no matter how far it is from Oakland, there will be unrest. If it doesn’t turn out as a guilty verdict for Johannes Mehserle, parts of Oaktown are going to go up in flames. Sure as I am sitting here. No doubt. People, especially black and Latino youth, have had it with cop harassment and killings, whether from BART or Oakland’s own, or Alameda’s sheriff’s deputies.

I am as nonviolent as anyone, and perhaps even more so because I am Buddhist, but understanding why something might happen as the result of violence does not mean that I condone it. I see no good coming out of this if justice is not served. That prone, motionless young black man (it’s contested whether Oscar Grant was handcuffed before or after he was shot) was murdered by this BART cop.

I remember getting into an argument with my mother about whether people were going to rise in L.A. or not because of Rodney King. I found that she was hipper than I was; that wishing that there would be no violence was like the activity of an ostrich, even as people spoke forcefully and daily what they were going to do if the jury let those three cops go. I didn’t want to see blood, fire and smoke. But I also saw how close the flames came to Beverly Hills before Rodney was brought to a mike to ask, Can’t we all get along?

Johannes Mehserle, the former BART cop who murdered Oscar Grant III on New Years Day morning (Courtesy: Oakland Tribune)

Johannes Mehserle, the former BART cop who murdered Oscar Grant III on New Year's Day morning (Courtesy: Oakland Tribune)

That it’s taken this long for this news to filter elsewhere, far from the Bay Area, is indicative of how some people desperately want this on the quiet, in comparison to how fast footage of the shooting went all over the Net, the Web and on Twitter and around the world. It even landed on the evening news programs and on cable.

So what did evidence did Judge Morris Jacobson use to change the venue of the trial? Understand, changing the venue of a trial is hardly done these days, unless the circumstances merit.

The judge noted that several public officials had weighed in with comments unfavorable toward Mehserle. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums urged that Mehserle not be released on bail, Rep. Barbara Lee said she would push for a federal case to be brought against the former officer, and state Attorney General Jerry Brown asked why prosecutors were “taking so long to file charges,” Jacobson said.

He said Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks and county Supervisor Keith Carson had described what they saw on the video as an “execution.”

Emotions have run so high that Mehserle, his family and attorneys have received death threats, Jacobson said.

The centerpiece of the defense’s argument to move the trial was a telephone survey it commissioned of 397 Alameda County residents. It found that 98 percent of those polled had heard of the case.

Defense attorney Michael Rains asserted that the county is racially polarized over the shooting, with black people in particular prejudging Mehserle guilty of murder.

Well, they don’t doubt their lying eyes that it was an “execution.”

You know, the same thing could be said about black men, their families and attorneys being threatened with lynching in the bad old days. The only problem with connecting this line of thinking, which is now promoted by cop apologists, with Mehserle’s predicament is that the true victim is not gun-toting, flight-risk (to Nevada), son of a wingnut Johannes Mehserle, but that defenseless, unarmed boy he put in the ground ten months ago. Oscar Grant didn’t have the luxury of a judicial or a law enforcement system already on his side, alive or dead. His youthful misbehavior, if any, did not warrant a fatal bullet in his body, although the defense is promising that other unreleased videos will justify the actions of his killer.

Since Grant’s family filed a $50 million dollar wrongful death lawsuit against the authorities, the BART chief of police, an Asian American, was forced to resign. Among other actions that hinted broadly of corruption and incompetence, Gary Gee, 64, even lined up BART employees that would say something positive about the man, and set up a contributions fund for his family. Legally, if not morally, Gee should have refrained from these actions. By taking the lead on these and not other activities, such as revising police policies that a recent independent investigation uncovered that were more than 30 years old, Gee relinquished impartiality. Gary Gee’s resignation was announced via e-mail in August just before an expected BART strike, and is effective December 30.

East Bay Indymedia had this to say in the context of the independent Meyers-Nave investigative report on the BART Police released in August, and Gee’s subsequent resignation.

Likewise, the sudden announcement of the resignation of BART Police Chief Gary Gee this past weekend is hardly surprising, even after he had resisted months of community demands that he step down for his incompetent and corrupt response to the murder of Oscar Grant. For Chief Gee, it was finally the weight of the Meyers Nave criticism and the unanimous Board vote for a new level of police oversight, both coming last week — and perhaps a cordial (or stern) push from the BART Board — that proved too much to bare (sic). Rather than being fired as he should have been, BART is allowing Gary Gee to “retire” and just walk away before the end of this year.

The public version of the Meyers Nave report clearly refutes statements made by Gary Gee in a January 12th press conference at the conclusion of his whitewash internal affairs investigation. With General Manager Dorothy Dugger and BART spokesperson Linton Johnson at his side, Chief Gee unequivocally declared at the time that his officers had followed BART police protocol and acted professionally, yet Meyers Nave now completely contradicts Gee and starkly states that “officers did not follow recommended procedures” on the Fruitvale platform, as anyone who has been following the case closely already knew. The summary of the report describes the tactics of officers on the scene as “seriously deficient.”

In a testiment to Gee’s laziness, or laissez-faire attitude toward improving his police force, Meyers Nave points out that the “BART Policy manual [has] not been updated in some areas since the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s.” Remember that BART police murdered another unarmed African American man since Gee has been Chief, Bruce Edward Seward in 2001.

“[L]apses in tactical communication and leadership” are cited as a critical misstep on the morning of the murder of Oscar Grant. Why supervisors were unavailable on a such a big night for BART as New Year’s Eve is not addressed in the report, only that their lack of supervision was a contributing factor to the escalation of events that led to the murder of Oscar Grant. Meyers Nave writes: “In this case, an experienced supervisor would have proven invaluable in controlling the scene, managing resources, directing use of force actions by officers, etc.”

Another slap at Gary Gee, and his BART police internal affairs unit, is when the report declares that BART needs a “more thorough investigation of any incident in which force is used.” Calling out the unacceptable behavior of officers on the platform, who apparently felt they could be as racist and violent as they pleased without accountability, Meyers Nave writes: “If all BART PD officers knew that BART PD would relentlessly investigate use of force incidents, including pulling of video and canvassing the scene, it is doubtful that BART PD officers would use force when it was not reasonable to so do.” It almost reads as facetious snark when Meyers Nave, discussing internal investigations, dryly reports that “it is unknown when the last UNjustifiable use of force occurred within BART PD.”

There were two Meyers-Nave reports: one was a report for public and media consumption, and the other was for internal dissemination. The internal report will also take center stage at the trial. However, the public report did not take BART officials to task for inflammatory statements that Oscar Grant deserved getting shot in the back.

It makes me think that the fix is in; that the resignations, the inability of BART or Alameda County to footdrag or even refuse to arrest Mehserle and Pirone, points to corruption on the part of East Bay law enforcement. That Mehserle was able to run to Nevada in the interim before he was officially taken into custody stats volumes about how sluggish these people were about getting justice for a black youth who had been in jail, but whose life was on an even, responsible keel.

Oakland Channel 2 also uncovered that the Meyers Nave report recommended the firing of both Tony Pirone and Marysol Domenici, also implicated in the case for making false statements. Domenici was also famously quoted as saying that, the victim (Grant) would have lived if he had obeyed Mehserle and Pirone. Pirone and Domenici remain on paid leave of absence. Four other officers–Noel Flores, Jonathan Guerra, Emery Knudtson and Jon Woffinden–have been returned to duty. Chief Gee came in for heightened criticism earlier this year when Woffinden and Domenici were included in the training of other police officers. None of the six officers involved have been disciplined.

On top of it, long-time Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff also resigned in September. Some say this was because the DA flummoxed convictions against three rogue cops who falsified evidence to put some West Oakland residents, wrongly it proved, in jail. But Orloff would have gone against Mehserle’s defense attorney, Michael Rains, to put a cop under the jail. Rains was also the winner in the case involving the three cops. Some community activists speculate that Orloff couldn’t bring himself to prosecute a cop to the fullest extent of the law, much less Tony Pirone, Johannes Mehserle’s partner, who essentially egged Mehserle on and who is just as culpable in this case.

When Judge Jacobson’s decision was announced, on October 16, people from the media as well as local politicians and city fathers begged for calm. The city of Oakland even let its employees off that day to keep them from harm and from inciting.

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums (who was mentioned above as a instigator) said that he understood many may disagree with the judge’s ruling.

“Whether we agree or disagree with the ruling, let us go forward in a civil manner and treat one another with respect,” Dellums said. “My fervent plea is that this decision does not cause chaos and upheaval in our city.”

Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, said she was stunned by the decision, which came a week after a change of venue hearing concluded. Her family had been encouraged by previous court rulings – including that Mehserle stand trial for murder.

She was adamant that the trial should be held in the city where her son died.

“It shows we still live in a black and white world. Nothing changes. “ Johnson said. “We will go wherever the trial goes. Justice will be served.”

We’ll see.

~ by blksista on October 25, 2009.

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