Mehserle speaks publicly for first time since Grant shooting
Former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle gave his first public interview since he fatally shot unarmed train passenger Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009 this week, speaking with journalist Rita Williams of KTVU Television.
On July 8 Mehserle was convicted by a jury of involuntary manslaughter in the 22-year-old Hayward man’s death and was immediately booked into Los Angeles County jail.
It was from there that Williams spoke with Mehserle, who appeared somber and on the verge of tears throughout the exchange.
In the first segment of the hour-long interview, which aired Thursday evening, Mehserle echoed testimony he gave to the jury this summer that he did not intentionally shoot the 22-year-old Grant, telling Williams, “The decision I made was to Tase Mr. Grant, it wasn’t to shoot him, and I know that.”
He also said he did not believe he would be convicted of any crime before the jury announced its verdict, and that he did not believe that he would “walk through those doors in handcuffs.”
Mehserle was charged with murder by Alameda County prosecutors, who believed he intentionally drew his firearm and shot Grant, who was lying prone on the platform, in the back. The case was moved to Los Angeles over concerns that Mehserle could not receive a fair trial in the Bay Area given intense media coverage.
He could face either probation or up to 14 years in state prison when he is sentenced November 5 by Judge Robert Perry, who presided over the trial.
Mehserle told Williams he agreed to the interview so that the public would have a chance to “see who I really am. I’m not asking for sympathy at all.”
He said he is not racist — Mehserle is white, Grant was black — and is “peaceful by my own nature.”
The scene on the Fruitvale BART platform the night of the shooting was “pretty chaotic,” Mehserle said. “It didn’t sound good from the get-go.”
Mehserle said he was told by fellow former BART officer Tony Pirone, the first to arrive after the initial call of a fight on board a train, to handcuff Grant and his friend Jackie Bryson.
He said after subduing Bryson, he meant to Tase Grant after struggling to control his hands and put them into handcuffs; Grant’s right hand was in his pocket and Mehserle said he didn’t want to take any chances if Grant was possibly harboring a weapon.
“Until you can rule out 100 percent that there’s no gun, it would be silly to assume — that’s how police officers die,” he said.
After firing his weapon, Mehserle told Williams he thought his Taser had malfunctioned but looked down and saw his gun in his hand, and then noticed the hole in Grant’s back.
“I was just in complete disbelief [...] He was saying something to the effect of ‘ you shot me’ and I remember telling him ‘calm down’ and I remember putting pressure on the bullet hole, and when he started losing consciousness I knew it was getting worse.”
After a long pause, Mehserle added, “I was just trying to figure out why this happened. I was praying that he would be okay.”
Contact Jennifer Courtney at firstname.lastname@example.org.