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Witness, defense lawyer clash in ex-BART officer's murder trial

Attorney Michael Rains accuses Jackie Bryson of trying to leave a dying friend on the train station platform after the shooting. Bryson says Rains is unfairly portraying the victim and his friends.

June 23, 2010|By Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times

A friend of an unarmed man who was fatally shot by a transit police officer in Oakland clashed in court Tuesday with the officer's defense attorney, accusing the lawyer of unfairly trying to portray the victim and his friends as wrongdoers.

In a downtown Los Angeles courtroom where former Officer Johannes Mehserle is on trial for murder, the defense attorney accused Jackie Bryson of trying to flee the scene as his friend was dying on a train station platform moments after the shooting.

The attorney played video taken from the platform's surveillance camera that showed a police officer stopping a handcuffed Bryson as he moved toward a train stopped at the station.

"What got you that distance, that close to the train?" attorney Michael L. Rains asked.

"My friend just got shot," Bryson replied. "I don't know what I was doing. I was in shock."

"You were in handcuffs, weren't you?" Rains shot back.

"You understand somebody just got shot in front of me for no reason by somebody that is here to protect us," said Bryson, 23. "He's supposed to be the good one. He came up and shot us. You want to make us look bad?"

Mehserle, 28, fired a single round into the back of Oscar J. Grant III in the predawn hours of New Year's Day 2009. The officer resigned from the Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Department a week later without explaining his actions.

The shooting triggered protests and violence in Oakland. The trial was moved to Los Angeles amid concern about the extensive media coverage of the killing in the Bay Area.

Alameda County prosecutors accuse Mehserle of deliberately shooting Grant, 22, as he lay face-down, unresisting on the station platform. Grant and Bryson were part of a group of men detained on the platform by BART police following reports of a fight on their train.

Mehserle's attorney contends that the shooting was a tragic accident in which his client meant to use his Taser on a resisting Grant but mistakenly drew his handgun. Rains has accused Grant and his friends of assaulting police officers and refusing to comply with their orders.

A second police officer testified last week that Mehserle announced he was about to fire his Taser before he shot Grant. In previous statements about the shooting, Bryson said that Mehserle had threatened to use his Taser as Grant lay face-down on the ground just before the shooting.

On Tuesday, however, Bryson testified that the officer made the threat earlier in the confrontation. Bryson said his friend was on his back on the platform and responded to the threat by telling the officers "I quit" and rolling onto his stomach.

Bryson said a second officer knelt on the back of Grant's neck. Grant complained that he could not breathe, he said. Bryson testified that he believed officers demanded Grant's arms but said his friend's hands were trapped under his body because Mehserle and the other officer were on top of him.

Mehserle, he testified, cursed, stood up and shot Grant.

The defense attorney questioned why Bryson's account had changed. He noted that Bryson had told BART detectives hours after the shooting that Grant had been on his stomach — immediately before the shooting — when Mehserle threatened to use the electric weapon and that Grant had repeatedly pleaded, "Don't Tase me."

Bryson said he had felt intimidated while speaking to BART police. He noted that officers kept him handcuffed for more than four hours after the shooting and read him his Miranda rights before asking him to cooperate with the investigation.

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