OAKLAND, Calif. – In a racially tinged case that has sparked outrage and street protests in Oakland, a former transit police officer seen on video shooting an unarmed man in the back has been charged with murder and could face life in prison, authorities said Wednesday.
Johannes Mehserle was arrested Tuesday night in Zephyr Cove, Nev., nearly a week after resigning from the Bay Area Rapid Transit district police force in the wake of the New Year’s Day shooting death of Oscar J. Grant III.
Legal experts said it was rare for an officer to be charged with murder in connection with an on-duty shooting, and that a conviction would be difficult to reach.
Mehserle’s attorney, Christopher Miller, said he expected that his client eventually would be cleared of the charges arising from “that chaotic night.”
Mehserle “was a fine young officer with an excellent work history,” Miller said at a news conference in Sacramento, adding that “this case is not just about a video.”
The shooting of Grant, a 22-year-old black father, by the 27-year-old white officer sparked a protest a week ago that ended in 100 arrests. Scores of buildings were damaged and cars were torched in downtown Oakland.
The city girded for the possibility of more violence during a demonstration Wednesday. Despite concerns, the protest was peaceful.
Hundreds of people gathered at City Hall and marched to the Alameda County courthouse, shouting, “We will march, we will chant, until there’s justice for Oscar Grant,” and “I am Oscar Grant!” Police in riot gear were out in force.
The shooting occurred two weeks ago, early New Year’s morning. Grant and friends were heading home to the East Bay aboard a BART train after celebrating New Year’s Eve in San Francisco when a fight broke out between two groups of riders. BART police met the train at the station and demanded that passengers disembark.
In videos that have been broadcast on television and viewed hundreds of thousands of times on the Internet, a uniformed officer later identified as Mehserle stands over a prostrate Grant, pulls his gun and fires point-blank into Grant’s back.