Newly Released Information in Oscar Grant Case Reveals Officer Lied to Investigators

A transit police officer who was involved in the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant in 2009 lied to investigators that he was “fighting for his life” when he punched the unarmed Black man, according to recently released documents. The New Year’s Eve murder took place on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) platform in Oakland, California.

A set of 10-year-old documents were released on Wednesday under California’s new police transparency law, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The report by the Meyers Nave law firm, which documented BART police officers' response to the incident, found that Officer Anthony Pirone “started a cascade of events that ultimately led to the shooting.” The report stated that Pirone, who is white, hit Grant in the face while he was trying to detain him. Pirone had forced Grant to sit down and then “struck Grant in the face with his left knee.” An autopsy report found that Grant suffered a hemorrhage from the hit, the documents stated. The report added that Pirone left this information out of his initial statement.

“This use of force by Pirone appears to be unprovoked, without justification, and unnecessary to the detention of Grant — it can be fairly viewed as punitive action,” the report stated. Grant’s death was one of the first police shootings that was captured on video and went viral, KNTV reported. Johannes Mehserle, the officer who fatally shot Grant in the back while he was laying facedown on the Fruitvale Station platform, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2010, The New York Times reported. The death of Grant, who was a young father, sparked outrage, riots, and activism. His death was made famous by the 2013 film Fruitvale Station, directed by Ryan Coogler (of Black Panther fame).

The documents also state that Mehserle intended to pull out his gun twice before he shot and killed the 22-year-old. Mehserle previously told investigators that the shooting was an accident, and that he mistook his firearm for his Taser, according to The Times.

“The conclusion can be made from a close viewing of the enhanced video [is] that he… can be seen trying to draw it at least two (2) times and on the final occasion can be seen looking back at his hand on the gun/holster to watch the gun come out,” the report read. “At the time of the shooting the video clearly depicts Oscar Grant with two hands on his back in a handcuffing position. Deadly force was not justified under the circumstances.”

While Officer Pirone also stated that he was “fighting for his life” after Grant had reportedly tried to punch him and kick him in the groin, this version of events was not viewed in the video. Investigators also said that Pirone admitted to calling Grant a racial expletive while he was detained.

“The use of the word ‘[racial expletive]’ diminished Officer Pirone and the BART PD. Officer Pirone’s choice of the word ‘[racial expletive]’ in this instance cannot, and should not, be excused, justified, or go unpunished,” the report stated.

Pirone was fired in 2010 after the investigation was finalized, a BART spokesperson told The Guardian. In the report, the law firm agreed with the firing. “Pirone’s repeated, unreasonable and unnecessary use of force; his willful and reckless conduct that endangered the safety of the public and his fellow officers; his failure to be forthcoming about the true events; his changing and shifting stories; his manifest lack of veracity; his professionally inappropriate demeanor; his use of a racially offensive word; and his excessive use of expletives warrant a recommendation that Officer Pirone be terminated from his employment with BART,” the documents stated.

In February, BART directors unanimously voted to name a side street by the Fruitvale BART station after Grant, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. Grant’s family first asked about naming the street for him in 2010; it will now be named Oscar Grant Way.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.