Last weekend family members and supporters of Oscar Grant III met at the Southern California Library in South Central Los Angeles to protest the release of his killer, ex-Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cop, Johannes Mehserlee, and plan further action. The trial judge, Robert J. Perry, recently ruled that Mehserlee should be released early because of credit for time served prior to his conviction and “good time” while in jail.
Although charged with murdering Oscar Grant, Mehserlee was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, a considerably lesser offense. He was sentenced to only two years in state prison, but because he was released on June 13, served less than half of his two-year sentence. Supporters rightfully contend that the sentence itself was a miscarriage of justice.
His early release is but the latest instance of favorable treatment for Mehserlee, who on New Year’s Day, 2009, shot and killed j19-year-old Oscar Grant as he lay face down on a BART train platform in Oakland, California. Mehserlee testified that the shooting was accidental. He claimed that in reaching for his Taser, he mistakenly took out his revolver; this was his only defense. However, given the fact that the Taser and revolver are decidedly different, were holstered opposite each other, and the revolver required releasing two catches and the safety before firing, all raised questions about whether Mehserlee was telling the truth. (His senior partner reportedly called Grant a “bitch…..nigger” before he was shot, reinforcing what many believe, i.e., that Mehserlee’s killing Oscar Grant and the behavior of other BART officers on the scene were racially motivated.)
The jury in Mehserlee’s trial had no Blacks and Judge Perry rejected any reference to Mehserlee’s criminal background and a history or alleged misconduct during his two years in law enforcement. Significantly, in addition to the involuntary manslaughter conviction, the jury added, “gun enhancement” for use of a firearm during commission of a crime. This would have added ten years to the sentence. Judge Perry threw out gun enhancement and gave Mehserlee the absolute minimum; a two-year sentence. As mentioned earlier, he also credited him with time served and “good time,” and ruled that Mehserlee should be freed on June 13, 2011, vacating a scheduled hearing and court appearance. This is blatant favoritism!
Mehserlee was sentenced to state prison but never set foot out of Los Angeles County jail where he is said to have had full privileges. His defense was, and apparently continues to be, financed by the a police union. Mehserlee will be released having served less than half the time NFL quarterback Michael Vick did for abusing animals.
Oscar Grant supporters are planning to press U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, (U.S. Justice Department) to charge Mehserlee and other BART officers on the scene when Grant died with violating his civil rights. Although the Justice Department has reportedly been investigating the matter since last year, there has been no official comment on the status of the investigation. (Attorney-General Holder has announced successfully prosecuting fifteen separate police malpractice indictments in New Orleans following Katrina, and that similar investigations are pending in Seattle Washington and Newark, New Jersey.
Last Saturday, Oscar Grant’s uncle, “Bobby” Cephus Johnson, spoke passionately and disparagingly about what he called the travesty and injustice of his nephew’s killing. He cited Mehserlee, of course, the behavior of other officers on the scene, and inequities in the criminal justice system itself, which he termed racist. His examples included transferring the case to Los Angeles County, the judges’ rulings, and Mehserlee’s preferential treatment, saying all were discriminatory.
Johnson stressed the need for a broad, unified and sustained response to his nephew’s “criminal” killing and the “criminalized criminal justice system.” He acknowledged that some supporters advocate changing the criminal justice system “by any means necessary”, including violence, but emphasized that the family while not condoning violence, will do everything in their power to see to it that Johannes Mehserlee never forgets having unlawfully taken the life of their loved one.
Bobby Johnson thanked the Los Angeles Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant for its continuing support of the family and for organizing and rallying LA folks around Ocar’s murder and injustice in the criminal justice system.
It is crucial that all concerned, Black leadership and the Black community in particular, continue to protest, not only Oscar Grant’s senseless killing, but the racist policies and practices of the criminal justice system, as well. Oscar Grant’s case is the norm, not the exception, and those who really believe change is necessary must do more than talk, they must actively join the fight to make change a reality.
Press conference today (Thursday) 4 pm, King and Crenshaw Blvd to protest Johannes Mehserlee’s release.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.