LOS ANGELES (AP) _ An unarmed black man killed by a transit police officer on a train platform in Oakland last year was scared of being shot with a Taser stun gun, harkening back to a prior run-in with police that led to his arrest, two people testified Monday, June 14.
Carlos Reyes, 22, told jurors at the trial of then-Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle that his friend, Oscar Grant, wasn't fighting with or resisting officers, some of whom had their Tasers drawn before the shooting.
“He said, 'Please don't tase me. I have a daughter,''' Reyes recalled Grant saying to officers.
Mehserle, 28, has pleaded not guilty in the shooting death of Grant. Mehserle, who is white, was among several BART officers who were called when Grant, 22, became involved in an altercation aboard the train that arrived at the Fruitvale station on New Year's Day 2009.
The shooting was videotaped by several bystanders and the trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles because of widespread media coverage and racial tensions sparked by the case.
Watching one of the videos for the first time, Reyes tried to hold back tears as he watched Grant being forced onto the ground by Mehserle, as fellow BART officer Tony Pirone put a knee on Grant's upper body. Reyes, who was a couple of feet away from where Grant was shot, said he looked away for a second when he heard the gunshot.
“I kept telling him it was going to be OK,'' Reyes recalls telling Grant. “I told him, 'Keep your eyes open.'''
Reyes testified he heard Mehserle say moments after the shooting, '“Oh (expletive), I shot him.''' Reyes added that Pirone, who he portrayed as hostile and sometimes violent, changed his behavior after Grant was shot.
“His whole demeanor changed,'' Reyes said. “At that point he told me to sit down and he'll call an ambulance. He felt bad in some sort of way.''
Mehserle resigned shortly after the shooting. Pirone was fired in April.
Defense attorney Michael Rains has maintained that Mehserle meant to pull out his Taser stun gun instead of his .40-caliber handgun when he shot Grant. In his opening statements, Rains said Mehserle told Pirone before the shooting, “Tony, Tony, Tony, I can't get his hands. I'm going to tase him.''
Prosecutors believe Mehserle did intend to shoot Grant and that he used his weapon because officers were losing control of the situation.
A key aspect of the case is how Grant fell to the ground.
Grant landed on Reyes' legs and then Grant found himself on his stomach, Reyes said. Rains contends that falling on Reyes' legs turned Grant on his back as Mehserle struggled to turn him over, face down, and get his hands behind his back to put on handcuffs.
Grant's fiancée, Sophina Mesa, testified that Grant told her he had been hit with a stun gun before on several occasions, recalling one instance in which he was hurt after he hit his head.
“He wouldn't want it to happen to him again,'' said Mesa, who settled for $1.5 million with BART as part of a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against the agency and several employees.
Mesa was likely referring to an incident in October 2006 when police say Grant ran away from them during a traffic stop. He was shot with a stun gun and resisted arrest as officers tried to handcuff him, authorities said. He was later sentenced to 16 months in state prison on a gun possession charge after police found a .380 pistol near where Grant was arrested.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry granted a defense motion earlier this month to allow the incident as part of evidence in Mehserle's trial.
Mesa, 26, also said she was unable to get hold of Oscar Grant on her cell phone after she went downstairs and exited the train station. She managed to reach him during a second attempt in which she described Grant as “scared.''
“He picked up my call and he said, real fast, 'They are beating us up for no reason,''' Mesa recalled Grant saying to her. Unable to respond to him because of the quick phone call, she tried again to reach Grant for a third time but was unsuccessful.
Mesa said she then heard a loud gunshot and minutes later saw Grant, who is the father of her 6-year-old daughter, Tatiana, being taken away in an ambulance. Grant was taken to a nearby hospital where he died.
Reyes claims he was struck a couple of times by another BART officer who responded to the shooting and told him, '“I have no problem beating your (expletive) tonight.'''
Reyes said he was handcuffed and spent four hours at BART headquarters before he was told he wasn't going to be arrested. Reyes acknowledged that he lied to BART investigators during his initial interview because he was scared of them.
“I just saw them shoot somebody for no reason, so I didn't know what they were going to do,'' Reyes said.
Pictured above is Oscar Grant.