The attorney representing BART said the man a former BART police officer shot on New Year’s morning died as a result of a tragic error. Responding to a federal lawsuit filed by family of Oscar Grant, attorney Dale Allen filed an answer to the lawsuit that seeks $50 million from the transit agency, its police chief and three officers.
Allen said that the shooting death of Grant was a tragic accident by now former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who, according to witnesses and video, expressed shock and surprise when he mistakenly used his gun instead of a taser.
“BART accepts responsibility for defending the lawsuit arising from this tragedy involving one of its police officers,” Allen said. “That is why we continue to attempt mediation with the family of Mr. Grant, so that we can bring closure and resolution for them.”
The shooting was captured on mobile phone videos and played on local televisions stations, but Allen said “there is far more to this story than is seen in the videos and far more information from witnesses about what really occurred that night that lead up to the tragic, mistaken shooting.”
Allen said a group of men, including Grant, were detained after they left the train because they were suspected in involvement in the fight, based on witness reports. There are numerous witnesses, Allen said, who have state that the situation was “rowdy, profane and threatening to passengers” prior to and when the BART police arrived. Subsequently, the scene on the platform, he said, became chaotic.
The Grant family’s attorney claims in his lawsuit against BART that police had no reason to pull Grant and several others off a Dublin-Pleasanton bound train after BART Police held the train at Fruitvale Station to investigate reports of an on-board fight.
WHY IS BART FILING THIS RESPONSE TO THE GRANT FAMILY LAWSUIT NOW?
The Grant family’s attorney, John Burris, filed his now $50 million lawsuit in federal court on March 2, 2009. By law BART has to file an answer to his lawsuit by April 6, 2009.
DOESN’T THE CRIMINAL CASE DECIDE THE CHARGES AGAINST MR. MEHSERLE? HOW CAN BART DETERMINE THE SHOOTING WAS AN ACCIDENT?
Yes, the criminal case will proceed independently in state court and will decide the charges against Mr. Mehserle. The civil suit for damages filed by Mr. Burris must be answered by a specific deadline. We are required to answer the civil lawsuit now in federal court. Our answer relies on the evidence and witness statements that are available to us at this time.
What about the other investigation underway…why is BART pursuing the internal affairs investigation if BART has already determined the outcome of the civil case? The internal affairs investigation has a different focus than the Grant family’s lawsuit. The internal affairs investigation looks at whether an officer violated BART polices and procedures. The Grant family’s lawsuit alleges liability for a wrongful death. BART’s defense of this lawsuit focuses specifically on answering the allegations that John Burris has alleged - not on whether there were internal affairs violations.
WHY IS BART PURSUING MEDIATION WITH THE GRANT FAMILY’S LAWYER?
We are open to all avenues that could bring closure to this matter.