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Officer in BART shooting quits force, avoids internal affairs quizzing

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/01/07/BA2N155BAH.DTL

San Francisco Chronicle
Demian Bulwa,Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 7, 2009

(01-07) 15:59 PST OAKLAND -- The BART police officer who shot an unarmed man to death on the platform of the Fruitvale Station in Oakland early New Year's Day resigned from the force today, avoiding an interview with police internal affairs investigators about the incident.

Officer Johannes Mehserle, 27, was supposed to have been questioned today by internal affairs about why he shot Oscar Grant, 22, of Hayward as Grant lay face down on the station platform, BART spokesman Linton Johnson said.

However, Mehserle did not show up for the interview. Instead, his lawyer and union representative appeared and handed over a short resignation letter, Johnson said.

Mehserle's resignation is effective immediately. BART said its investigation of the shooting would continue, as will a separate investigation by the Alameda County district attorney's office.

BART had come under fire from John Burris, the attorney for Grant's family, for not having forced Mehserle to talk with internal affairs investigators since the shooting. Unlike in criminal investigations, in which a suspect has the right not to talk to police, officers involved in on-the-job shootings must talk to inspectors as part of administrative inquiries or risk being fired.

Mehserle's resignation means he does not have to talk to BART investigators.


"I'm not surprised," Burris said of Mehserle's departure. "It should have happened long ago. It's not the end, of course, for the family. They would prefer that he be prosecuted and sent to jail."

Johnson said today that Mehserle's attorney, David Mastagni, had postponed a meeting between the officer and internal affairs investigators that had been set for Tuesday and wanted to reschedule it for next week. Instead, BART told Mehserle to show up this morning, Johnson said.

Mehserle resigned the same day that Grant's family gathered in Hayward for his funeral. Burris has filed a $25 million claim against BART on behalf of Grant's mother and 4-year-old daughter, the likely precursor to a lawsuit.

In the claim, Burris said Mehserle "mercilessly fired his weapon" at Grant after the supermarket butcher and several friends were pulled off a train at the Fruitvale Station following a reported dispute with another group of passengers.

Grant was unarmed when he was shot in the back; the bullet went through him and ricocheted off the platform, then hit him again in the torso.

BART, Mehserle and the officer's lawyer have all been silent about why Mehserle opened fire, but BART has said one possibility it is investigating is that Mehserle mistook his service weapon for a Taser stun gun.

Mehserle was a BART police officer for two years. He and other BART officers were equipped with stun guns only within the past few weeks.

Grant's death has attracted attention well beyond the Bay Area, driven in part by the fact that the shooting was filmed by at least two cell phone video cameras. Footage has been widely aired on television stations.

An official of the human rights group Amnesty International USA, Dalia Hashad, said today before Mehserle resigned that BART's delay in interviewing the officer "hints at the callousness to the worth of human life to a public that is all too familiar with racial profiling, police brutality and cover-ups."

E-mail the writers at dbulwa@sfchronicle.com and hlee@sfchronicle.com.
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