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Former BART officer recounts fatal shooting

Johannes Mehserle sobs as he testifies at his murder trial that he mistakenly drew his handgun instead of an electronic stun gun while having trouble handcuffing a passenger.

June 26, 2010|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times

Sobbing as he testified, a former Bay Area transit officer for the first time offered his account of how he shot and killed a 22-year-old passenger, saying he mistakenly pulled out his handgun instead of an electronic stun gun and fired a single shot before realizing his mistake.

Johannes Mehserle, 28, testified that he was having trouble handcuffing Oscar Grant III and only intended to use the stun gun to make the man comply with his orders.

"I didn't think I had my gun," he testified. "I remember the pop. It wasn't very loud, it wasn't like a gunshot, and I remember wondering what went wrong with the Taser.

"I remember looking to my right side and seeing my gun in my right hand," he said of his .40-caliber pistol. "I didn't know what to think. I just thought it shouldn't have been there."

Mehserle said he looked down at Grant, who was lying on the floor of the Bay Area Rapid Transit station platform. "Mr. Grant said, 'You shot me,' " Mehserle testified.

Mehserle's trial was moved to Los Angeles because of pretrial publicity and the anger that the fatal shooting stoked in Oakland, where Grant was shot at the Fruitvale station. Mehserle is white and Grant was African American.

But moving the trial out of the Bay Area has hardly dampened emotions, which ran high throughout the former BART officer's testimony. Mehserle has acknowledged killing the unarmed passenger, but has pleaded not guilty to murder charges.

The shooting was videotaped by several train passengers and has drawn comparisons to the trial of four Los Angeles Police Department officers charged in the 1991 videotaped beating of Rodney King.

Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson, walked out of the courtroom during his testimony. And one spectator, Timothy Killings, 24, of Oakland, stood up and yelled: "Maybe you should save those … tears, dude." He was later arrested.

Mehserle said he tried to calm a hysterical Grant after the shooting.

"I was just trying to keep his eyes open," Mehserle testified.

Then Grant's eyes closed, he said. "I was scared," he said. "This wasn't supposed to happen. I remember putting pressure on the [gunshot] hole.

"I didn't intend to shoot Mr. Grant," he added. "Just Taser him."

Mehserle said the shooting unfolded when Grant tensed up as he tried to handcuff him and Grant fell to the floor. He said he ordered Grant to give him his hands but that, instead, Grant jammed his right hand into his right-front jeans pocket and began digging for what Mehserle said he believed could be a gun.

But under cross-examination by Alameda County Deputy District Atty. David Stein, Mehserle acknowledged he didn't tell anyone else that night that the shooting had been an accident.

"You never told him you meant to Taser him, did you?" Stein asked, referring to Grant.

"No sir," Mehserle replied.

Mehserle testified that he also briefly handcuffed Grant after shooting him. "I needed to search him," he said.

Mehserle said he did not warn other officers that Grant might be armed because he was not fully convinced Grant had a gun.

Asked by Stein if he had come to court prepared to testify, Mehserle said: "I think about this event every single day of my life."

Mehserle completed his testimony Friday, but other witnesses are expected to testify early next week. The case possibly could go to the jury late next week.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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