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A California district attorney has reopened an investigation into the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer more than a decade ago. The 22-year-old Black man was killed on January 1, 2009, while lying face down on a train platform at Oakland’s Fruitvale Station.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced on Oct. 6 that her office would reopen the Grant case. O’Malley cited calls from Grant’s family to reopen the case for her decision.
“I have assigned a team of lawyers to look back into the circumstances that cause the death of Oscar Grant,” O’Malley said, according to NBC News. “We will evaluate the evidence and the law, including the applicable law at the time and the statute of limitations, and make a determination.”
The district attorney did not reveal the focus of the review.
Johannes Mehserle, the BART officer who shot Grant in the back, was charged with murder following massive protests demanding justice. At his trial, Mehserle told the jury he believed he was squeezing the trigger of a stun gun, not his service weapon, when he shot at Grant. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2010 and served less than a year in prison, according to The Washington Post.
The other BART officers involved have not been charged for Grant’s death. One officer, Anthony Pirone, was fired but was not charged for pulling Grant off a train, kneeling on Grant’s neck and shouting racist profanity at Grant.
A report publicly released in May 2019 found that Pirone was largely responsible for setting into motion the events that ended with Grant’s death. The report, by the Meyers Nave law firm, said video of the encounter showed Prione hit Grant in the head and kneed him. Grant did not fight back, the report found, according to The Associated Press.
“Pirone was, in large part, responsible for setting the events in motion that created a chaotic and tense situation on the platform, setting the stage, even if inadvertent, for the shooting of Oscar Grant,” said Kimberly Colwell and Jayne Williams, the attorneys that wrote the report on July 31, 2009.
The attorneys, who recommended BART fire Pirone, cited his “repeated, unreasonable and unnecessary use of force” as well as his “manifest lack of veracity” and use of racist language as reasons for his termination.
The report also said videos from the incident suggested Mehserle may have known he was using his firearm instead of his Taser before he fatally shot Grant.
Demand for Police Accountability
Grant’s family has spent the 11 years demanding that all of the BART officers involved be held accountable for his killing. The family has called for Pirone to be charged for his action.
“Oscar was denied full justice,” said Grant’s mother, Rev. Wanda Johnson, at Fruitvale Station on Oct. 6. Johnson said Pirone “escalated –– instead of de-escalating the situation –– and caused the loss of my son’s life.”
Grant’s family also compared Grant’s death to the May killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. An officer dug his knee into Floyd’s neck as other officers surrounded him. Floyd, who was Black, died during the police encounter.
The murders of Grant and Floyd were both caught on cell phone video and sparked massive protests. Grant’s death was also memorialized in the film, Fruitvale Station, which gave the case national attention.
Johnson told The Mercury News that she hopes O’Malley’s office will prosecute Pirone for his actions.
“Absolutely we are hopeful that Nancy O’Malley and her team will do the right thing, and the right thing is to convince Pirone for his actions in causing my son to lose his life and be killed,” she said.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.