Bay Area Rapid Transit officers were dispatched to the Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California at about 2:00 a.m. on New Year's day to break up an altercation between two groups of passengers aboard an arriving train. Officers detained some passengers involved in the conflict on the station platform. Among these was Oscar Juliuss Grant III, a 22-year-old Hayward man. Grant was an apprentice butcher at a supermarket. A caring father whose own estranged father was in prison, Grant was raised by his mother and grandmother. BART officials did not release any details regarding the disturbance between the groups of youths on the train.
Witness videos, posted to YouTube and sent to media outlets, captured events from at least three different angles of the shooting. This video shows Grant lying face down on the station platform. We see an officer's knee pinning Grant down at the neck. A second officer, Johannes Mehserle, appears to be trying to handcuff Grant, while a third officer watches. Suddenly, Mehserle stands, unholsters his weapon, aims, and shoots Grant in the back.[Warning: All videos show the actual shooting death of Oscar Grant]
Police attempted, but failed, to confiscate all witness video. Karina Vargas, a witness who recorded the shooting, boarded the train just before the doors closed. A female officer banged on the doors attempting to retrieve Vargas' recording. Vargas refused and later released the video to the media. Vargas was interviewed and walks a reporter through events in her video. "I see that the cop starts… they start hitting them. So, I realize that this is not okay… He's being cooperative. But yet they still… they yell at him… You see them lay him down, flat on his belly. He's [the officer] hitting him [Grant] at that point. You just see the two police officers on top of him. He's flat on his belly. I'm looking at his face, lying flat on the floor. He's not squirming. He's not fidgeting. He's being cooperative… You hear the gunshot."
In the clearest video the shooting is only somewhat visible. But prior to the shooting, we hear the passengers in the train become upset and shout to the police. This may be the point where Vargas said, "…they start hitting them."
Witnesses said Grant advised his friends to cooperate with the police. Oscar Grant also apparently attempted to personalize himself to the officers, much like the victim of a crime might appeal to an aggressor. According to witnesses he made pleas for his safety, telling the officers he has a four-year-old daughter.
BART official Jim Allison stated that the Fruitvale Station cameras were not equipped to record. This claim was recanted two days later, when officials then said that the camera tapes were running, but did not pick up any of the details of the shooting.
Police found no weapons on anyone involved in the incident. Grant was pronounced dead at the hospital at 9:13 a.m., according to the coroner.
Could Oscar Grant Have Been Handcuffed Before He Was Shot?
According to early news reports, witness accounts indicated Grant was handcuffed and lying face down on the platform when he was shot. Jim Allison said, "…the officer's gun went off while police were trying to restrain Grant and that Grant was not cuffed." John Burris, the civil rights attorney for the family, has recently stated that, according to witness statements, Oscar Grant was not handcuffed before he was shot. Burris says witnesses said the officers handcuffed Grant after he was shot and then later removed the handcuffs prior to the arrival of the media. The lawyer's statement makes it seem unlikely that Grant was handcuffed first. Yet, YouTube video posters have attempted to show evidence that Grant was handcuffed before he was shot. One points out that Grant's arms remain behind his back during and after the bullet's impact and perhaps even as Grant is being moved by police after the shooting.
Officer Mehserle was placed on paid leave after the shooting. He later resigned from his position and refused to be interviewed by BART investigators. No news accounts have reported that Mehserle has been questioned yet by any of the investigators, including the District Attorney's office and the Oakland police, who were requested to investigate by Mayor Ron Dellums on January 8.
Peaceful demonstrators gathered to march in Oakland on January 7 in protest of Grant's death and the failure of police to arrest Mehserle. Crowds chanted, "We are all Oscar Grant." Later that evening anger flared. Some protesters attacked a police vehicle, breaking the windows, and making what looked like an attempt to flip it over. A garbage dumpster was set aflame. Some stores and cars were damaged. Mayor Dellums appeared on the street offering assurances and support to some peaceful participants. Oscar Grant's family has called for an end to any violence.
Tom Orloff, the District Attorney for Alameda County, said that the decision about whether Mehserle will be charged is pending the investigation, which is still ongoing.
Saturday, January 10, California Attorney General Jerry Brown entered the case after speaking with the N.A.A.C.P. He assigned a special prosecutor to monitor the investigation. "There’s an ancient saying that justice must not only be done but must also appear to be done,” Brown said.
Oscar Grant leaves behind his little girl, to whom he was devoted. "After his daughter was born four years ago, [he]…kept on driving around with two huge pink flags on his car that proclaimed, 'It's a girl,' until the material disintegrated."Powered by Sidelines