Defense attorneys representing Officer Johannes Mehserle in a murder trial that begins Wednesday in Los Angeles plan to call to the stand a San Leandro, Calif., police officer who says Oscar Grant ran from him and a fellow officer with a loaded pistol in 2006 after a traffic stop, forcing the officers to shock him with a Taser and then kick him when he wouldn't put his hands behind his back.
The defense says Grant's past sheds some light on his actions during the New Year's 2009 incident at Oakland's Fruitvale BART station and, in turn, Officer Mehserle's response the night of his death. Attorneys say in court filings that Grant resisted being handcuffed at Fruitvale Station and "appeared to be moving one arm toward the waistband of his pants," prompting Mehserle to decide to subdue him with a Taser. The attorneys say the officer then accidentally pulled out his pistol and fired once into Grant's back.
Defense attorney Michael Rains said he is entitled to show evidence that "Grant is the sort of person or had the sort of character that would lead him to" resist arrest.
Alison Berry Wilkinson, an attorney who represents other BART officers who were on the platform, said, "It doesn't change the fact that it was a tragic accident. But in order to understand why the officers reacted the way they did, you have to understand the signals Oscar Grant was sending to them with his behavior. ... This didn't happen in a vacuum."
Grant dropped out of high school and was arrested five times between age 18 and his death, records show, spending a total of nearly two years behind bars. Once, in February 2006, he admitted in a sworn statement to Hayward police that he was dealing the party drug ecstasy to "five to six regular customers" and making "$1,000 to $1,500 a week."