DA: No Cop Pulls a Gun on Accident

A retired BART patrol officer walked the courtroom through the four safety features in the gun Mehserle used that would have prevented the weapon from accidentally being shot.

By Julianne Hing Jun 16, 2010

I’ll be ducking in and out of the Oscar Grant-shooting trial in Los Angeles as it unfolds over the next few weeks. Yesterday was day four, and it was dominated by testimony from law enforcement training and weapons experts as the prosecution tried to chip away at the idea that Johannes Mehserle’s shooting of Grant was an understandable mistake.

Throughout the day, Mehserle rarely looked at witnesses on the stand. Instead, he looked straight ahead, making eye contact with nothing, acknowledging few people beyond his defense team. He has been charged with murder by the Alameda County DA, but the trial was moved to Los Angeles at the request of Mehserle’s defense to escape the scrutiny and media attention the incident received in the Bay Area.

Assistant District Attorney David Stein is working to prove that Oscar Grant did not resist arrest, and was not a threat to BART officers while he lay face down on the BART platform on New Year’s Day 2009. Whatever the intention of the BART officers involved that night, Grant had been subdued. Stein’s thrust is that the response from officers represented excessive force that deviated from the training they received.

To that end, Stein attempted today to convince jurors that the firearms and holsters BART officers are equipped with have multiple safety features that prevent them from accidentally reaching for their guns; they’ve got to make a conscious decision to do so.

Much attention was paid to the fundamental safety rules police officers are taught in basic training: cops must treat every gun as a loaded weapon. And they must never point their guns at anything they do not want to destroy. Stein called up four witnesses, most of whom are or were officers who trained other BART cops.

Paul Slivinsky, a retired BART patrol officer who repaired and assessed BART cops’ firearms, testified that the weapon Mehserle used the night he killed Oscar Grant was impeccably maintained, and had no glitches in its manufacture or condition. Slivinsky walked the courtroom through the four safety features in the gun Mehserle used that night that would have prevented the weapon from accidentally being shot.

Stein called up three other witnesses and introduced evidence that showed that BART officers received specific and thorough training about when it was lawful and advisable for a BART police officer to use lethal force–if a suspect was an "imminent threat"–and that BART officers received training in multiple ways to search and subdue a suspect that didn’t include shooting the suspect in the back.

Johannes Mehserle’s defense, led by the high-powered attorney Michael Rains, underlined another basic tenet of BART cop trainings: "Be sure of your target and what is beyond it." To Rains, this rule suggested that Mehserle would never have knowingly and intentionally shot Grant because Anthony Pirone, another BART cop, had his knee on the back of Grant at the time. "Aren’t officers taught to consider the proximity of other officers when they shoot?" Rains asked during his cross-examination of Sgt. Paul Garcia, a patrol sergeant with BART.

Rains also spent considerable amount of his cross-examination trying to prove that Mehserle never received many of the so-called "forced option trainings" that simulate stressful situations for BART cops, by way of showing that Mehserle was not at fault in what was an undoubtedly stressful real-life situation that night. Later, Stein showed that even though Mehserle didn’t receive these forced option trainings, neither did any other BART cop from 2007 through 2009.

Court is taking the day off today and will resume on Thursday.