Saturday, October 17, 2009
Trial of ex-BART cop who killed passenger ordered moved from Oakland
Is it really not possible to find a dozen intellectually honest people in a county of $1.5 million? That's what a judge ruled ruled Friday in ordering a case against a former transit police officer accused of killing an unarmed black passenger moved to another jurisdiction, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. While it's true that wide publicity has followed the seemingly inexplicable killing of 22-year-old Oscar Grant on a train platform in Oakland and the civil unrest that erupted in the city's downtown in the aftermath, it cannot possibly be that enough people in California's seventh-largest county are unable to set aside their prejudices to make up an impartial jury. Yet that's the meaning of the judge's ruling that Johannes Mehserle, 27, the white BART cop who fired the fatal shot, cannot get a fair trial in Alameda County. The uproar over the shooting has continued to be so intense, the judge ruled, that it will "foreclose any real hope of insulating jurors from the pressure of the public outrage in Alameda County." Mehserle was shot and killed while lying face down on the platform at the Fruitvale Station of the BART regional transportation system. The shooting, which followed a disturbance on a train, was captured on dozens of digital and cell phone cameras. A BART-commissioned study found officers to be at fault in their handling of the disturbance and the immediate aftermath of the shooting. BART stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit, which carries more than 350,000 riders daily. "The incident is viewed by many as being a case about race relations between the police and minority communities," Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson wrote in his 28-page decision. "In essence, this case is an allegation of murder under color of law, inseparably entwined with a broad-scale political controversy." The judge also cited inflammatory statements by public officials following the shooting as additional justification for moving the case. Los Angeles and Sacramento counties have been mentioned as possible locations for the trial. The family of the slain youth, who have filed a $25 million wrongful death claim against the BART police, wanted the trial kept in Alameda County, the Chronicle said.