Convicting a police officer of murder, or even manslaughter, is never easy — even when the cop was caught on video fatally shooting an unarmed man as lay face down on the ground. And judging from testimony in the first week of the Johannes Mehserle murder trial in Los Angeles, the task facing Alameda County prosecutor David Stein may be tougher than imagined. A parade of witnesses that Stein called to the stand to help convict Mehserle repeatedly testified that the then-BART cop appeared to be "shocked," "dumbfounded," or "stunned" right after shooting Oscar Grant to death last year, the Oakland Tribune reported.
Even Grant's friend, Carlos Reyes, who was two feet away at the time, testified about Mehserle's apparent surprise, bolstering the argument by defense attorney, Michael Rains, that Mehserle killed Grant by accident. The testimony also undermined Stein's contention that the shooting was intentional. According to Rains, Mehserle maintains that he meant to pull out his Taser against Grant but instead mistakenly grabbed his gun.
The prosecution's case also took a hit when former BART police officer Anthony Pirone testified that Mehserle shouted: "I'm going to Tase" Grant immediately before shooting him to death, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. However, the prosecutor showed how Pirone may be covering up for Mehserle when he got Pirone to admit that he never told investigators about what Mehserle had allegedly shouted. Pirone also acknowledged that Mehserle never told him after the shooting that he meant to use his Taser. Pirone was fired by BART for allegedly lying about the shooting. He also appears to have been primarily responsible for escalating the situation when he manhandled Grant, swore at him incessantly, and twice called the young black man a "bitch-ass nigger" — a slur the white officer claims Grant first hurled at him.
Finally, another prosecution witness, ex-BART cop Marysol Domenici, helped the defense when she testified that things were so chaotic before Mehserle killed Grant that she considered using her Taser. But then Stein caught Domenici in a lie when she claimed on the stand that there were fifty people on the Fruitvale BART platform when she arrived, and many of them were ridiculing her. Stein played videos for the jury, showing the platform was empty. BART fired Domenici also for allegedly also lying about what happened that night.
Oakland Candidates Spar Over Cops
A sharp disagreement over how to deal with Oakland's budget crisis has emerged among the three main candidates for mayor this year. Councilwomen Rebecca Kaplan and Jean Quan believe that the city's well-paid police officers should agree to compensation cuts to help fill the city's $31 million budget hole. But ex-state Senator Don Perata indicated in a recent interview that cops have already sacrificed too much. The difference of opinion also provides insight into the candidates' political allegiances.
Last week, Quan voted to begin the process of laying off 200 cops if police officers refuse to start paying 9 percent to their own retirement plans. Currently, police pay nothing toward their pensions, while firefighters contribute 13 percent and other city workers pay part of their retirement plans as well. A majority of councilmembers want that to change — including Perata's longtime friend and ally Ignacio De La Fuente. And they noted that because police and fire take up 75 percent of the city's general fund budget, there are few other places to cut.
Kaplan also pointed out that Oakland police, whose salaries start at $71,000 annually, make more than their counterparts in other cities. The Tribune noted that starting pay for New York City cops is about $44,000. "We shouldn't have to pay double what New York City has to pay," Kaplan said. "We shouldn't have the highest-paid workers paying a lower percentage into their pension than the lowest-paid workers."
But in a video interview with East Bay blogger Zennie Abraham, Perata empathized with Oakland police, indicating that they already paid their fare share when they agreed to givebacks last year. "They got concessions — good concessions — from police and fire a year ago," Perata said, referring to councilmembers. "We knew, when those were made, they never bothered to have any ongoing discussions. Then they start jamming people from the dais. And I'm getting a little tired of picking on the guy that does the work."
Perata said the council should vote on "$15 million" in cuts before asking city unions to make further concessions. He did not, however, identify what those cuts would be. In addition, he said that Oakland police should not face pay cuts because their jobs are too dangerous. The Oakland police officers' union is strongly backing Perata for mayor.
UC Berkeley officials bungled their response to last year's student protests, according to a university-commissioned study. The hard-hitting report found that Cal officials didn't take the demonstrations over huge tuition increases seriously at first, thereby angering students. Campus police then overreacted, further inflaming the situation. ... A federal judge overseeing the Proposition 8 trial seemed skeptical about claims by gay-marriage opponents that the primary reason for marriage is procreation. Judge Vaughn Walker also appeared mystified that gay-marriage opponents had only called two witnesses to substantiate their case, according to the San Jose Mercury News. ... Prop. 8 backers also asked Walker to overturn a California Supreme Court decision and invalidate 18,000 gay marriages. ... And state appellate judges appeared to side more with the San Francisco Bay Guardian than the SF Weekly during oral arguments last week, the Chronicle reported. The Weekly is attempting to get a $20-plus million verdict against it overturned.