Bay Area police and community leaders are hoping for calm when a verdict is announced in the murder trial of former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle.
Jury deliberations in the trial were suspended yesterday because one of the jurors is sick. Deliberations are expected to resume this morning and legal analysts predict a quick verdict, possibly as early as today.
Mehserle, 28, is on trial for murder for the fatal shooting of
22-year-old Oscar Grant III while trying to arrest him at the Fruitvale BART station early on New Year's Day 2009. Mehserle has claimed he meant to fire his Taser stun gun when he shot Grant, who was unarmed.
"We are here Tuesday because we want to convey a message of peace and a message of dialogue," San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon said at a news conference at police headquarters.
He called it "a wonderful opportunity" to continue recent
collaborations between police, clergy and other community leaders.
The partnership is sponsoring three days of "Be Heard, Teach
Peace!" outreach events focused on youth this week at local community centers in San Francisco's Western Addition, Bayview and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods.
Grant's shooting provoked anger in the African American community, and demonstrations in Oakland were marred by violence. Dozens of businesses
Mehserle is white, and Grant was black.
Gascon was joined Tuesday by Police Commission President Joe
Marshall and several clergymen, including the Rev. Amos Brown of San Francisco's Third Baptist Church.
"We definitely don't want a reoccurrence of what happened before," Marshall said.
Marshall, who also works with at-risk youth as director of the
Omega Boys Club, said members of the community "want justice, but at the same time, they want peace."
Brown advised San Francisco residents to remember the contrast
between the reaction to the Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles and the nonviolent approach of Nelson Mandela.
"Don't let no opportunist con you into a violent response," he
said. "There's no excuse for anybody to be madder than Mr. Grant's family."
The family has called for a nonviolent response to the verdict.
Jury deliberations in the murder trial of former BART police
Officer Johannes Mehserle were suspended today because one of the jurors is sick.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman said Judge Robert Perry hopes that deliberations will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
However, the spokeswoman said another juror will be replaced because he is going on vacation, which is something Perry and the attorneys in the case were aware of when he was selected.
That juror will be replaced by an alternate and the panel will have to start their deliberations from scratch, the spokeswoman said.
However, jurors only deliberated for two hours and 20 minutes on Friday after getting the case at 1:40 p.m. and they then adjourned for the long Fourth of July weekend.
Mehserle is on trial for the fatal shooting of unarmed passenger Oscar Grant III on the platform of the Fruitvale station in Oakland early on New Year's Day 2009.
His lawyer, Michael Rains, has admitted that Mehserle shot and killed 22-year-old Grant but claims the shooting was an accident and that Mehserle, 28, meant to use his Taser gun.
Mehserle is free on $3 million bail.
In giving jurors their legal instructions on Friday, Perry said
they will have the option of convicting Mehserle of second-degree murder or the lesser charges of voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Jurors will also have the option of finding Mehserle not guilty of all charges.
The trial was moved away from Alameda County because of concerns about whether Mehserle could get a fair trial because the extensive publicity the fatal shooting received and the passions it aroused in the community.
In the meantime, local agencies are making sure they're prepared for any civil unrest following the announcement of the verdict.
BART is providing guidance and information to its ridership in the event problems occur at any BART stations, including the Dublin/Pleasanton station. Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti also said that his city is prepared in the event of any local unrest.
"While it is not anticipated that civil unrest will occur in Dublin, the city's police and fire Services have planned and prepared for this possibility and are coordinating with public safety agencies throughout the Bay Area for mutual aid requests, should it be necessary," Sbranti said.
According to BART, depending on public reaction, some stations may need to close temporarily or adjustments to service may be made on short notice. BART Police and Operations staff are closely working with other local law enforcement agencies to coordinate plans.
BART board president James Fang cancelled a tentatively scheduled news conference Friday afternoon after the jury recessed from its deliberations for the three-day Independence Day holiday weekend. Deliberations are scheduled to beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Fang said that the press conference was "intended to express our deep pride and love for the city of Oakland and the Bay Area community and to join with community leaders and city officials to call for calm and peaceful response to the upcoming verdict in the Johannes Mehserle trial."
In a statement, Fang said:
"Whatever the verdict, those of us who live and work in Oakland and who love this city must direct our energies and our emotion into constructive actions for change and progress.
We must respect the small business owners in the Bay Area, and in Oakland in particular, who are working hard to make a living in these difficult economic times. Neither, BART, the city of Oakland, its residents or its businesses have control over the outcome of the People versus Mehserle trial.
While we respect the judicial process, I personally would have liked to have seen African-Americans seated on jury and I am deeply disappointed that there are none.
While we cannot control the outcome of the trial, we can change BART's future. As a result of this tragedy, BART has taken an extremely hard look at its police department and the way we interact with the people we serve. Through hard work and especially community input, we have made progress and changes that better reflect our charge to serve the community.
Some of the changes we have already made include:
• Reforming the police Use of Force policy so that now any use of force will be reviewed;
• Increasing the amount and diversity of police training;
• Working to establish citizen oversight of the BART Police Department. In fact, a bill to establish citizen oversight was unanimously passed by the BART board, the state Assembly and Senate;
• Hiring a new Chief of Police, Kenton Rainey, who has a strong record of accomplishment in community oriented policing.
We have faced many challenges in the past 18 months to rebuild public trust. While we cannot change the events of Jan. 1, 2009, we are continuing to fulfill our commitment to make the changes required to ensure the BART Police Department lives up to the high standard our customers and the Bay Area deserve."
For more information on BART's preparations, please visit www.bart.gov for updates.