The jury in the trial of Johannes Mehserle is expected to begin deliberations today. Their options are:
- second-degree murder in the shooting of Oscar Grant, for “intentionally committing an inherently dangerous act, while knowing it was dangerous and acting with conscious disregard for human life.” Sentence: 25 years to life.
- voluntary manslaughter, if they believe “he acted in ‘imperfect self-defense,’ based on an actual but unreasonable belief that he needed to use lethal force.” Sentence: 6 – 21 years.
- involuntary manslaughter, if they think “he committed a crime – using excessive force on Grant by deciding to shock him with a Taser – that was not in itself potentially lethal, but became so because of the manner in which it was committed” – i.e., with a gun instead of his Taser. Sentence: 5 to 14 years.
- acquittal, if they believe he committed no crime.
- If they choose either form of manslaughter, the judge would have the option of sentencing him to probation instead of prison.
I’m not on this jury. I’ve only seen the evidence that has been documented publicly, but based on what I have seen, and knowing that plain stupidity was not one of the available charges, I would convict him of involuntary manslaughter.
I don’t believe he intended to kill Grant. This video clearly shows his surprise when he heard the report of his gun. Nonetheless, he was a trained police officer who should have known the difference between a gun and a Taser. A man is dead because of his stupidity.
Unfortunately, the truly guilty in this case are not on trial. To my knowledge, there is no case pending against the BART police department. Mehserle was trained just once, in December of 2008, on how and when to use his Taser. Mehserle testified that the police department “left it up to us” to figure out how to carry their Tasers, and did not stress the possibility of confusing the two weapons. In April of this year, BART temporarily suspended Taser use, subsequently updating their training and policies to conform with federal court rulings.
Neither is there a case pending against the Taser manufacturer, who has erroneously sold these weapons as a “safe” alternative to guns, despite the fact that multiple people have died from their use. The latest statistics I could find said that 351 people died as a result of being Tased between 2001 and 2008.
More importantly, police in general no longer view themselves as officers charged with keeping the peace in their own communities, but as paramilitary us-against-them organizations. If they encounter a barking dog, they shoot it. If one unreliable informant tells them someone has a drug stash they could confiscate to fund their department, they get a no-knock warrant and charge in with their weapons drawn, often shooting the wrong people – including a 7-year-old girl, whose grandmother watched her die. While I’m sure there are still “good cops” out there, their unconditional support of department policies and most any officer who steps over the line makes them just as guilty.