Wednesday, January 14, 2009

BART Officer Charged With Murder

On New Year's Eve (rather early in the morning on New Year's Day) in Oakland's Fruitvale station, a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) officer shot and killed a 22 year-old man who had allegedly been involved in a brawl on one of the trains. At the time of the shooting, it appeared that the victim, Oscar Grant, was already handcuffed and lying face down on the ground.

The incident was caught on many a cell phone.

Since then, the BART officer has resigned, a protest turned violent in Oakland, and the BART officer, one Johannes Mehserle, has turned himself in.

Today, the Alameda District Attorney announced that they will charge Mehserle with murder.

I was a bit surprised at first, as that seemed more severe than I guess I was expecting. But, if you think about it, it's not that far fetched. If you watch the video, he seemingly quite calmly pulls out a gun (and as an officer, he has been trained on what those do and how shooting someone in the back will often be fatal) and shoots the guy lying prostrate on the ground in handcuffs. While I think "premeditation" might be hard to establish for first-degree murder (though not impossible), I think establishing malice aforethought would not be that difficult.

I had initially thought that voluntary manslaughter would probably be the extent of the charge (as a "heat of passion" kind of crime), but as I watched the video again, I think I see the DA's reasoning. While he might have been initially "provoked," he 1) is a BART officer on the beat, so confrontations are really a part of his job, and 2) the situation looked pretty calm at the time of the shooting. All of those who were allegedly involved in the altercation on the train were in handcuffs and on the ground. I think it would be hard to show that he was any longer in the heat of passion.

Although this post, like the hundreds of others like it, will definitely be fodder for a motion for change of venue based on Mehserle not being able to get a fair trial in the Bay Area given all of the news coverage.

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