With protests over police brutality against Black Americans still ringing across the country more than decade after Oscar Grant’s death at the hands of BART police officers, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced on Monday that her office will reopen the investigation into the killing on New Year’s Day 2009.
“We have listened closely to the requests of the family of Oscar Grant,” O’Malley said in a statement. “We are reopening our investigation. I have assigned a team of lawyers to look back into the circumstances that caused the death of Oscar Grant. We will evaluate the evidence and the law, including the applicable law at the time and the statute of limitations, and make a determination.”
The stunning announcement came at roughly the same time Grant’s family and supporters held a press conference at the Fruitvale BART station to call for a reopening of the case—specifically the actions of former BART police officer Anthony Pirone.
The Grant family noted strong similarities between Pirone’s use of his knee to Grant’s head and the technique used by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin that led to the killing of George Floyd in May.
An internal investigation by BART of the Grant shooting in 2009—unearthed last year via a public records request—found that Pirone instigated the incident. “Pirone was, in large part, responsible for setting the events in motion that created a chaotic and tense situation on the platform, setting the stage, even if inadvertent, for the shooting of Oscar Grant,” according to the report.
Pirone was never charged.
However, previous Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff charged BART police officer Johannes Mehserle with second-degree murder for fatally shooting Grant. Mehserle said he mistakenly believed he had discharged his Taser. A jury found Mehserle guilty in 2010 of involuntary manslaughter instead of murder.
The verdict triggered immediate, large-scale protests in Oakland—as well as many more to come over the next decade—that began peacefully and often turned violent by nightfall. The Grant shooting also ushered in a defining moment for the movement to hold police accountable for wrongdoing after cellphone video of the incident posted online triggered outrage. The police perspective was typically the only perspective given during violent incidents at that time, but the video of Grant’s killing provided a strong alternative view.
In the decade since, video of police officers behaving violently against Black people has created a tipping point for how Americans view policing and calls for a “re-imagining” of police departments.
O’Malley’s announcement to reopen the Grant case suggests she hears the calls for change in Alameda County. In the time since the county Board of Supervisors appointed O’Malley to be district attorney in September 2009, she had never charged an Alameda County police officer until just last month. Many were surprised when O’Malley announced on Sept. 15 that she would charge San Leandro police officer Jason Fletcher with manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Steven Taylor, a 33-year-old Black man with a history of mental illness. Fletcher shot Taylor inside a San Leandro Walmart after responding to reports of a man attempting to shoplift items and waving a bat at employees and customers.
O’Malley questioned why Fletcher had not used de-escalation techniques during the incident. Instead, Fletcher shot Taylor 40 seconds after entering the store.