The trial of Bart cop Johannes Mehserle, who’s accused of fatally shooting 22-year-old Oscar Grant in 2009, took a day off today because California is broke and has to accommodate statewide furloughs. Family, jurors and legal teams took the day to recharge for Thursday, when it’s rumored that ex-BART cop Tony Pirone may testify.
Pirone was the BART police officer who had his knee pressed on Grant’s back when Mehserle shot him. Pirone can be seen in multiple videos appearing to shove Grant against a wall right before he’s pulled away from the wall and pushed onto his stomach. Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, said in his opening statements that Pirone was an aggressive officer, shouting profanities and roughing people up unnecessarily.
Prior to the beginning of the trial though, Rains sought to have an exchange between Pirone and Grant excluded from the trial. According to Rains’s motion, Grant called Pirone a "bitch ass n—-r" and Pirone, a white man, threw the racial slur back at Grant several times. Rains felt that allowing jurors to hear about that exchange would influence their perceptions of Mehserle and of cops in general. Rains also thought that bringing up the exchange could introduce race into a court case that "is not about race." Judge Robert Perry denied Rains’s motion.
Both the defense and prosecution will likely treat Pirone harshly. Prosecutor David Stein will push hard to show that Pirone’s conduct could provide clues into Mehserle’s mindset. It’s reported that Mehserle looked up to Pirone like a "big brother." Rains will aggressively question Pirone to provide a foil to Mehserle’s conduct that night. So far, no one has testified to hearing Mehserle shout racial slurs at people that night. Rains will have to show that Pirone was an aggressive cop with behavior problems that Mehserle did not share.
BART fired Pirone in April, several weeks after firing Marysol Domenici, another BART cop who was involved in the shooting that night.
Judge Perry has issued gag orders against both the prosecution and defense, but only the defense’s witness list has been released to the public, a secretive move that’s buoying hopes among trial observers that Stein has some amazing tricks up his sleeve–or important witnesses to protect.