Judges usually don't refer to murder defendants as liars in public before a case goes to trial. But that's essentially what happened last week when Alameda County Superior Court Judge C. Don Clay told ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle that he didn't believe that he accidentally shot and killed an unarmed Oscar Grant in the back while he lay on the ground. "There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Mehserle intended to shoot Oscar Grant with a gun and not a Taser," the judge declared in open court, referring to the cop's claim that he meant to Tase Grant, not fatally shoot him. Clay then ordered Mehserle to stand trial on murder charges.
Although the judge's statement was unusual, it wasn't surprising. After an extended pretrial hearing, it was clear that Mehserle and several of his colleagues had serious credibility problems. Testimony revealed that after the New Year's Day killing, Mehserle repeatedly told another BART officer that he thought Grant was reaching for a gun — and never once said that he had meant to Tase him, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The judge noted that as a trained police officer, Mehserle would not have attempted to Tase Grant if he actually believed he posed a deadly threat. In the end, the testimony was pretty damning for Mehserle, and it looks as if he would be better off attempting to strike a plea deal with prosecutors than putting his fate in the hands of a jury, who will surely watch the videotapes of the fatal shooting over and over again.
Mehserle's buddy, BART cop Anthony Pirone, also should make sure he has plenty of lawyers around. Both Pirone and Mehserle testified that Grant had refused to put his hands behind him, but then Pirone was forced to admit that videotapes of the shooting showed Grant doing just that. Pirone also testified that Grant had kicked him in the groin moments before the killing. But according to the Chron, Pirone then admitted that he never told investigators about the alleged kick during at least two interviews in the days after the killing. Pirone said he only remembered the kick later, after viewing videotapes of the incident — which, it should be noted, do not show any such kick.
Meanwhile, Pirone's partner Marysol Domenici also appears to have problems telling the truth. She testified that Grant grabbed her arm just before Pirone forced Grant to the ground. But once again, numerous videotapes of the incident don't show Grant grabbing anyone. Domenici and Pirone also blamed Grant for his own death, saying he would still be alive if he had done everything they asked. But that raised more questions about them than him, particularly about whether they remain fit for service. In essence, the BART cops had justified killing a suspect who resists arrest.
And finally, there's BART police Chief Gary Gee. His department clearly mishandled the shooting investigation, and he's responsible as the person in charge. Based on what was said on the stand, it's hard to justify Gee's decision to not fire Pirone and Domenici. But that's just the start of Gee's problems. According to the Chron, the chief is under fire for ordering new shoulder patches for his cops' uniforms with the word "BART" removed. The new patches simply say "Police," surrounded by a barely readable "Bay Area Rapid Transit," spelled out in very small letters. In other words, Gee apparently is attempting to downplay whom the cops actually work for. The agency, which is facing a huge deficit and plans to raise fares next month, spent $2,500 on the new patches. BART board member Lynette Sweet called the move "one of the stupidest things I've heard."
Good and Bad News for Jerry Brown
A new poll on the 2010 governor's race shows that state Attorney General Jerry Brown is leading San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for the Democratic Party nomination. The Probolsky Research/Capitol Weekly Poll showed that Oakland's former mayor would receive 24 percent of the vote compared to Newsom's 16 percent and Villaraigosa's 15 percent if the election were held now. But it'll be interesting to see if the latest controversy surrounding Brown will affect those numbers. The Sacramento Bee reported that Brown accepted nearly $50,000 in campaign contributions from the family of powerhouse lobbyist Darius Anderson, whose company the state Attorney General's Office is now investigating. The Bee also reported that Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner jumped on the ethics scandal immediately, calling on Brown to return the donations, saying that the attorney general was engaging in "unethical conduct," by keeping contributions from the family of a man his office is investigating. A spokesperson for Brown, who has decried the negative effects of campaign contributions on politics in the past, said the attorney general has no plans to return the money.
The San Francisco 49ers' plan to move south got a big boost last week when the Santa Clara City Council approved the proposal. The Niners also want the Oakland Raiders to move with them, hoping that it will be easier for two teams to finance a new $937 million stadium. According to the Chron, Raiders CEO Amy Trask has expressed interest in the stadium-sharing proposal, but would prefer that the two teams work on a new stadium plan for Oakland. ... But that seems like a long shot, considering the deep economic downturn, the city's staggering budget deficit, and the fact that West Oakland just got its first grocery store last week. As for the Oakland City Council, it seems preoccupied with offering municipal IDs for illegal immigrants. ... Maybe Berkeley would be interested. Mayor Tom Bates said last week that his city is in remarkably good financial shape. And now that the university has cut down all those trees, maybe there's also room for the Raiders?