Family's Attorney Increases Claim to $50 Million in BART Shooting

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The family of Oscar Grant III filed a lawsuit Monday against BART and several of its officers, seeking $50 million in damages for Grant's fatal shooting at the Fruitvale station New Year's Day.

John Burris, the attorney for Grant's family, originally filed a $25 million claim in January. But Burris said he doubled the amount in the wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit after reevaluating the degree of Grant's suffering.

"I know a lot more now," Burris said. "Grant himself suffered longer and more than I had realized."

The lawsuit has been filed against BART, BART police Chief Gary Gee and officers Johannes Mehserle, Tony Pirone and Marysol Domenici.

Mehserle, Pirone and Domenici were present during the shooting at the BART station. Mehserle has been charged with murder in connection with Grant's death.

"There was a violation of civil rights, an illegal arrest, threatening and intimidation with tasers, and unlawful detention," Burris said. "The scope is larger, this issue is more egregious."

Burris hopes the lawsuit, if successful, will bring some consolation to Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson, and his girlfriend, Sophina Mesa, the plaintiffs in the suit.

"(The lawsuit) won't bring his life back, but Grant's family wants some acknowledgement that his life was taken away," he said.

Pirone's attorney, Bill Rapoport, maintains that his client did not use an excessive amount of force during the incident.

"I don't think (Burris) will be able to prove many of his allegations. (Pirone's) actions were taken entirely out of context," Rapoport said. "A large measure of the actions by Officer Pirone were instigated by Grant himself and created a lot of the commotion that had to be dealt with that night."

Alison Berry Wilkinson said her client, Marysol Domenici, engaged in appropriate conduct during the incident as well.

"She contained them with a minimum amount of force. She had her hand out to keep them from a distance," Wilkinson said. "Just having her taser out is not inappropriate, it's what they're trained to do."

Burris also plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of five other men on the BART platform at the time of the shooting.

Although a court date has yet to be scheduled to hear the lawsuit, Burris expects a resolution in six to 18 months that is in his clients' favor.

"Police officers as well as their lawyers always say they're just doing their job, but that doesn't mean they haven't violated someone's civil rights," Burris said. "The question is, how were these officers doing their job, and that's what the lawsuit is all about."

But Wilkinson said Burris has no grounds for the lawsuit.

"(Burris) can believe what he wants, the facts are clear," Wilkinson said. "They're doing their job and trying to control a hostile, unruly, aggressive group of people. The officers were merely acting in response."

Mehserle is scheduled to return to court on March 23 for a preliminary hearing.


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

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