By Thandisizwe Chimurenga
Special to TheBlackHour.com
Day 10 of the People vs. Mehserle trial ended June 24 with defendant Johannes Mehserle taking the stand.
Mehserle, a former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer, is accused of murder in the death of Oscar Grant, who was shot in the back while prone at an Oakland rail station on New Year’s Day 2009.
Defense attorney Michael Rains’ first sought to humanize his client, asking about his family life and what he was voted "most" in high school: Mehserle said he was voted “Most Huggable."
It stood in stark contrast to his questioning days earlier, on June 22, which sought to portray 22-year old Grant as a violent aggressor.
Judge Robert Perry interrupted Rains’ twice saying “We have to get to the case."
Thursday, Rains asked Mehserle how he became interested in police work and about his enrollment at the Napa Valley Police Academy in July 2006 and his graduation in December of that year.
Rains asked Mehserle about his training, focusing on the practice of drawing a gun from a holster and developing “muscle memory.”
While still a cadet at Napa, Mehserle attended a recruitment event with representatives from BART and other agencies. He applied and, after a three-month process, was sworn in as a BART officer in March 2007.
Rains asked Mehserle about his training as a rookie with the agency, and Mehserle’s attempt to develop his own “style.” Mehserle said that, prior to BART, he came from a customer service-type background where his approach had involved communicating with people.
“I wasn’t very hands on,” he said.
Court ended June 24 after Mehserle had been on the stand for only about an hour. But he had time to share how he answered the call on Jan. 1, 2009, to assist other officers at the Fruitvale transit station. He said he and his partner that night, officer John Woffendine, arrived in about five minutes and had been coming from the West Oakland BART station.
Mehserle said there was “lots of noise upstairs”; he could hear yelling and screaming when he got out of his car, and added that he was worried about the officers upstairs.
He said, as he arrived on the platform, he saw three people "advancing" toward former officers Anthony Pirone and Marysol Domenici.
“They looked like they were going to interfere,” he said.
According to his recollection, Mehserle said there were four people seated against wall and he identified Grant and Jack Bryson as being “upset.”
Mehserle stated he saw Pirone and Domenici with their Tasers drawn, and he took out his also, focusing on Grant and Bryson. He said the two were yelling about Pirone, saying “eff him, eff that officer,” and, “I’m going to sue him.”
Mehserle said he got them to settle down, and asked Oscar Grant to put away his cell phone.
Before Mehserle took the stand, Michael Schott, a forensic video image analyst, wrapped up two day's worth of testimony at the trial. He focused on sequences of images from six videos from Jan. 1, 2009.
Schott showed frames from the videos, slowly progressing through them rather than playing the videos in their entirety. The videos he showed had not been enhanced; they were somewhat blurry and, though Schott stressed he was only giving his interpretation, he kept eye contact with the jury and spoke authoritatively.
Prosecutor David Stein, deputy district attorney, asked Schott about his law-enforcement background and in how many cases he had testified where police officers had been accused of misconduct. Schott replied "probably" more than 50.
When Stein asked Schott if his law enforcement background made Schott biased toward law enforcement, Schott said it did not.
Later, Stein asked Schott, in relation to the videos, whether he thought it would be helpful to listen to the audio as he watched them.
Scott replied, "It doesn't necessarily change what is on the screen."
Stein challenged Schott about specific scenes in the videos: "In this case, where observers and witnesses reacted to Oscar Grant being struck by Pirone, are you saying that's not what they saw?" he asked.
Schott replied, "There is no doubt they are mistaken."
Regarding Pirone kneeing Grant, Stein asked, "Did you factor in what you heard in your interpretation that Officer Pirone did not strike Oscar Grant in the head?"
Schott said, "No, I am looking to see if his foot left the platform."
Schott had earlier testified that, just before Pirone placed his knee on Grant’s head or neck, Pirone could be seen in the video “placing his hand between Oscar Grant’s head and the concrete pavement.”
With incredulity in his voice, Stein asked Schott, “Is that what you believe?”
Rains said he will call his last witness Monday, June 28. The case is scheduled to go to the jury by the end of next week.
Mehserle is scheduled to return to the stand today.
By Thandisizwe Chimurenga