BART Orders Investigation of Fatal Shooting

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In an effort to regain public trust, BART officials announced Wednesday that an independent law firm has been hired to lead an internal investigation of the BART officers present during the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant III.

Meyers Nave, an Oakland law firm, which BART officials said is known for its unbiased investigations, hopes to complete its report in three months.

"I think that it's a necessary step to put the investigation into an agency that can be trusted," said BART Director Bob Franklin.

Former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who currently faces murder charges in connection with Grant's shooting, has become the subject of protests and public criticism since the Jan. 1 shooting.

Mehserle's attorney, Michael Rains, requested on Feb. 6 that Judge Morris Jacobson lift a gag order preventing Mehserle from speaking publicly about the trial, according to Bay City News.

Rains said the gag order has prevented his client from countering "negative publicity in the case which has presumed his guilt as murder," Bay City News reported.

Mehserle will appear in court today for the judge's decision on the gag order. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 23.

The internal BART investigation will include interviews of 40 eyewitnesses and seven police officers, examination of video footage and analysis of dispatch tapes, said Kim Colwell, head of Meyers Nave's litigation department.

"We all know that the shooting was an inappropriate use of force, but we've been asked to look beyond that at all of the officers to see if all of their conduct was appropriate or not," Colwell said.

If the firm finds that officers acted improperly, Meyers Nave will recommend some form of discipline.

Thomas Blalock, president of the BART Board of Directors, said BART will then take action in accordance with the firm's findings.

"Basically if they turn up something that suggests criminal activity, that gets sent to the District Attorney," Blalock said. "If it's a violation of procedure ... penalties up to and including termination would occur."

The criminal investigation of the involved officers, headed by the BART Police Department, will deliver its results to the Alameda County District Attorney's Office in about two weeks.

The office is not pursuing many charges of protesters, particularly the low level misdemeanors, said Carlos Villarreal, executive director of the Bay Area chapter of the National Lawyer's Guild.

Villarreal said the guild has been helping about 115 protesters involved in the rallies. About five protesters have already been charged with felonies.

Todd Heller, a protester who was arrested during a Jan. 7 rally, said he is waiting to be formally charged.

"They basically didn't drop the charges, but they said we have to call every week for the next year to find out if there's any pending charges," he said.

This could be a technique used to take advantage of the year given to prosecute, Villarreal said.

"There might be a strategy going on where the prosecutor's office doesn't really want to take the time and energy to pursue the cases," Villarreal said. "They also want to keep the threat hanging over their heads. It has a chilling effect on peoples' right to free speech and assembly."


Keena Batti covers the courts. Contact her at [email protected]

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