Johannes Sebastian Mehserle, a former Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer, is the defendant facing second degree murder charges over the New Year’s Day 2009 shooting and killing of unarmed BART passenger Oscar Grant.
Grant died at Highland Hospital in Oakland, California from a single gunshot wound from Mehserle’s pistol.
When questioned by BART internal affairs investigators after the incident, Mehserle cited the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights to avoid self-incrimination. He resigned from the force on Jan. 7, 2009 without explaining to transit police investigators why he shot Grant.
The videos of the incident were widely disseminated through local media and on the internet. They touched off protests and rioting in Oakland, and reignited long-standing conflicts between law enforcement and the community — many of which had racial overtones: Mehserle is white, Grant was black.
In an unprecedented legal move, then-sitting Alameda County District Attorney Thomas Orloff announced on Jan. 14, 2009 that he would be pursuing murder charges against Mehserle because of the fatal shooting.
Mehserle was arrested at a friend’s home in Zephyr Cove, Nevada that day and booked into Douglass County jail. He waived extradition and was brought back to Alameda County by Oakland Police detectives the next day.
The former officer was released from county jail after family members helped post a $3 million bond on Feb. 6, 2009.
In pre-trial hearings held in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, Mehserle did not testify. His attorney Michael Rains said that the former officer mistakenly fired his service pistol while trying to arrest Grant. Rains said Mehserle wanted to use his Taser to shock Grant, but used his service pistol instead.
The judge presiding over the hearings sided with a motion from Rains to change the venue of the jury trial, citing intense media coverage and concerns surrounding the impartiality of the jury pool if the trial were to be held in Alameda County.
On Nov. 19, 2009, Judge Morris Jacobson selected Los Angeles County as the new venue for the murder trial. The trial is scheduled to commence on June 1 at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles. Judge Robert J. Perry, will preside over the case.
The shooting incident came at a critical juncture in the former police officer’s life. His girlfriend gave birth to their child one day after the Grant killing on Jan. 2. An attorney representing Mehserle said the former officer decided to travel to Nevada to escape the intense media coverage and scrutiny over the incident.
Mehserle, now 28, joined the BART Police force in March 2007 after graduating from the Napa Valley College Police Academy in 2006. He was ranked as one of the top recruits in his graduating class and was described by fellow cadets as a promising future peace officer.
He graduated with a business degree from Sonoma State University. He is the oldest of three children and has spent all but four years residing in the state of California.
Mehserle was a member of the BART Police force for almost two years before the fatal shooting incident.
He is currently out on bail awaiting trial.
Information compiled from Beat research and news services