The Johannes Mehserle murder trial likely will come down to whether jurors believe the tears shed by the ex-BART cop on the stand last Friday were genuine or staged. As the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune reported: Was Mehserle telling the truth when he wept openly and told jurors: "I didn't think I had my gun," at the moment he fatally shot Oscar Grant in the back? Or will jurors question why Mehserle never told fellow officers that he meant to pull out his Taser but mistakenly grabbed his gun instead. The case could go to the jury as early as this week.
Before Mehserle began his nearly day-long sobfest, he testified that Grant and his friends were angry when he arrived at the Fruitvale BART station last year because of how they had been treated by fellow BART cop Anthony Pirone, the papers reported. Mehserle also attempted to distance himself from the hot-headed Pirone, saying he is the "opposite of him." Pirone, who had escalated the situation by manhandling Grant and screaming a racial slur at him, was fired by BART for his actions.
Also testifying last week was Jackie Bryson, a friend of Grant who was next to him when he was killed. Bryson said that Mehserle became frustrated just before the fatal shooting, said "Fuck this," and then stood up and shot Grant in the back, the Chron reported. Bryson was called to the stand by Mehserle's lawyer Michael Rains, who then attempted to portray Bryson as a liar who was trying to get Mehserle convicted of murder. However, Bryson also substantiated earlier testimony by Pirone, who said that Mehserle warned Grant prior to the fatal shooting that he was going to Tase him.
As the case comes to a close, BART, Oakland police, and Oakland city officials, meanwhile, are preparing to deal with riots should Mehserle be acquitted, the Trib and San Jose Mercury News report. Oakland police held mock riots at the Port of Oakland and set up a tip line for people to call if they're aware of planned rioting or vandalism. And Police Chief Anthony Batts and Mayor Ron Dellums issued a statement late last week that appeared to show that they're bracing for an acquittal: "We are dedicated to ensuring the safe expressions of emotions during this difficult time. We understand that the community is grieving and we are in this together. We will get through this together. We are asking the community to come together, look out for one another and stay safe. We will not tolerate destruction or violence."
Oakland to Lay Off 80 Cops
The Oakland City Council voted 5-3 last Thursday night to lay off eighty police officers as part of $31 million in budget cuts. However, council members said that they would reverse their layoff decision if the police union agreed to begin contributing to its pension plan like other city employee unions.
The layoff plan, along with millions in other budget balancing measures, was proposed by City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente and seconded by Vice Mayor Jean Quan, who is running for mayor this year. Voting with them were council President Jane Brunner and Councilwomen Pat Kernighan and Nancy Nadel.
Councilmembers Desley Brooks, Rebecca Kaplan, and Larry Reid voted "no," although it appeared that only Reid opposed the police layoffs. Brooks said she had problems with several cuts made to other city departments and revenue-enhancement proposals that she called "smoke and mirrors." Both she and Kaplan also said that the police union's refusal to contribute 9 percent to cops' pensions was "unsustainable."
However, Kaplan, who has launched an exploratory bid for mayor this year, did not specify why she decided to vote "no." The layoff plan is expected to put pressure on the police union to make pension concessions. The third major candidate in this year's mayor's race, ex-state Senator Don Perata, has made it clear that he's on the police union's side.
De La Fuente's proposal also called for laying off another 122 police officers if voters refuse in November to approve changes to Measure Y, the 2004 parcel tax initiative. Council members want to suspend the minimum police force requirements in the measure so that the city can lay off some cops and still collect the parcel tax. Next month, the council also will consider other tax measures for the November ballot, including another parcel tax and raising the city's utility and sales taxes.
Higher Bridge Tolls
Transportation officials are bracing for possible gridlock when new higher bridge tolls go into effect on July 1, the Chron reports. The problems could be particularly acute on the Bay Bridge because carpoolers will no longer cross for free and must pay a $2.50 toll using FasTrak — and because the bridge toll for everyone else will jump to $6 during commute hours.
BART has quietly resurrected its plan for a $500 million tramway to Oakland International Airport and is attempting to cobble together funds. The airport connector was thought to be dead earlier this year when the Obama administration withdrew $70 million in federal funds because of BART's civil rights violations. ... Bus Rapid Transit will not be coming to Berkeley under environmental-review plans approved by AC Transit. BRT is only being studied for Oakland and San Leandro. ... Alameda voters narrowly rejected Measure E, a parcel tax that would have benefitted public schools on the island. ... And Yusuf Bey IV, who is accused of ordering the murder of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey, is attempting to get his trial moved out of the Bay Area.