Johannes Mehserle Sentencing Delayed to Find Grounds for Appeal
Again, more running, jumping and standing gall.
Former BART Transit officer Johannes Mehserle was scheduled to appear in court August 6 for sentencing in the killing of Oscar Grant. That’s not going to happen. Mehserle’s defense attorney in yet another nimble legal stall asked for and got a sentencing delay, possibly an indefinite delay. The October push back date that Judge Robert Perry set as the possible new sentencing date is so iffy that may not happen.
Mehserle’s defense attorneys aren’t through. They are scratching and clawing to find any legal technicality in the jury verdict to get the conviction scrapped. The sentencing delay is part of the strategy to buy time to come up a plausible ground for appeal or the overturning of the involuntary manslaughter conviction. This is no surprise. Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris noted that in the three decades that he’s been involved with police malpractice cases he has yet to see a police officer convicted and serve lengthy time for the wanton killing of an unarmed civilian.
This is not hyperbole. The latest legal gymnastics by Mehserle’s team again points up the towering bar in place to jail cops for excessive force. The starting point is the prosecution. District attorneys rarely prosecute police officers for excessive force. When they do, they give their defense team wide latitude, even kid glove treatment in presenting their defense. They do this partly because they depend on police officers to provide evidence, witnesses, and write the reports used in their criminal prosecutions. Also, many prosecutors are former police officers or have close personal ties with police officers.
Prosecutors also give defense attorneys for police officers special treatment because of the crushing obstacles that they face when they try to put police officers behind bar for excessive force. They must spend countless hours, spend a small fortune of taxpayer dollars, to try these cases. They face withering criticism from police unions, police officials, and even city officials. Police defense attorneys are some of the best and most pricey defense attorneys around. They are expert at using every legal device, trick, dodge and maneuver in the legal books to create reasonable doubt that police officers should never be charged with deadly force against civilians. This includes discrediting videos, impugning the testimony of eyewitnesses, and turning the tables and painting their victim, in almost all cases a young African-American or Latino, as the aggressor. They play up any arrest or criminal record of or conduct by the victim. They argue that the violence by the officer was a legitimate judgment call.
A case could be made that Mehserle was impaired because he could not make an informed judgment call, since his cop pals were egging him on and helping to heighten a potentially dangerous atmosphere. You try reaching for something in your pants pocket while prone, being commanded to put your hands behind your back with cops with billy clubs and Tasers are above you. You’re unarmed. How could one break free and escape?
Those cops were straight tripping. Oscar Grant did not deserve Tasering or shooting or beating, as it had been witnessed by others and even Grant himself said so before he died.
The Justice Department, on July 9, entered the fray, filing a civil rights suit on behalf of Oscar Grant.
At the hearing, the judge will listen to Grant’s family members deliver what are known as victim impact statements. Mehserle can plead for mercy, and his supporters can address the court as well.
The judge will also hear legal motions – and perhaps testimony – related to the verdict. Defense attorney Michael Rains is expected to ask for the verdict to be set aside or for a new trial on the involuntary manslaughter charge.
Rains is also expected to try to strike the gun enhancement, arguing that it shouldn’t apply to armed police officers or to defendants convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
Plus, a pro-Mehserle rally has been called in Walnut Creek, one of the East Bay majority white communities, for Monday. Walnut Creek cops are sweating this one out; one, because they might not have enough coverage for the admittedly small gathering, and two, because some markedly anti-Mehserle people may show their colors. Let the cops sweat. While a few bloody noses might go well with dinner at 6:00 p.m, I doubt whether this is going to get that nasty, even with the possibility of some friendly neighborhood anarchists attending.
I said that it wasn’t over, and now I’m confirmed. If Mehserle walks with some legal technicality–I mean, freedom without him serving one day for Grant’s murder–I just don’t think people are going to be able to stay quiet this time.
New America Media, a blog that spotlights the voices of people of color, had this to say about the polarized atmosphere in Oakland and the East Bay. Especially, the local media’s involvement in heightening that situation, rather than accurately interpreting and analyzing the nature of black and Latino anger.
Two days after a Los Angeles jury found former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter, I overheard two white couples discussing the case over brunch. One of the men said it was “inconceivable” that Mehserle knowingly shot Oscar Grant in the back as Grant lay facedown on a BART platform with his hands cuffed behind his back.
About that time, members of our Oakland Voices project were discussing the case and the ways in which “police violence plays out in our communities.”
Many Oakland Voices participants, the majority of whom are West Oakland residents of color we are training to be citizen journalists for the Oakland Tribune, expressed little doubt that Mehserle knew what he was doing.
While I don’t know the two couples discussing the case, my guess is that their contact with law enforcement has generally been orderly and fair. In fact, surveys have found a gap between the way African Americans and whites view law enforcement, with whites reporting a less fraught relationship with officers than do members of communities of color, where police have a reputation of using brutal force.
Those conflicting sentiments expressed on a Bay Area Saturday afternoon reflect very distinct, very authentic realities of life in communities across the region and the country. Those realities very likely played a role in the jury’s decision and in assumptions that the verdict would provoke violence.
Unfortunately, media coverage before the verdict did little to help us understand these sentiments. Much of the media focused instead on the potential for post-verdict violence, providing little or no context about who might commit the violence and why (my italics). Because Mehserle’s sentencing will no doubt result in another flurry of stories, reviewing pre-verdict coverage could offer lessons on how to provide more nuanced insights.
But they won’t. There is no grey area. Grant was a criminal, though the young man had not been in trouble, and had been gainfully employed, for more than two years. Mehserle is innocent; he could do no wrong, because cops can do no wrong. Especially white cops.
Mehserle wasn’t just a rolling, reckless incompetent. He was a murderer to many of us. There’s a wide gap between guilt and innocence, and in this case, scarcely any ground to see that just because someone has white skin, his actions aren’t always as snow white and excusable. Mehserle going to jail wouldn’t be the fall of white supremacy, but it sure would be the beginning of justice.