'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Nothing is Going to Happen to the BART Police Officer Who Killed Oscar Grant 

For background on the killing of Oscar Grant at an Oakland BART station by BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle during the early morning hours of New Year's Day, go here and here and here. Today, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Tom Orloff made it crystal clear that the US will support the Palestinians before he decides to criminally prosecute Mehserle:

If Mehserle is charged with a crime in Grant's shooting, it will be a first.

No one we talked with - from the district attorney's office to lawyers who work either side of police shootings - could remember a case in the last 20 years in which an on-duty officer had been charged in a fatal shooting in Alameda County.

"By and large, police officers have been reacting to some type of situation before they shoot someone that usually provides a legal justification," said District Attorney Tom Orloff, who has seen dozens of police shooting cases during his nearly four-decade career as a prosecutor.

Orloff, whose office would ultimately decide whether Mehserle should be charged with anything, hastened to point out that many details about the Fruitvale Station shooting remain unknown and that it is far too early to know whether the case will enter the criminal arena.

The most recent controversial police shooting in Alameda County happened July 25, when Oakland police Officer Hector Jimenez shot a drunken-driving suspect in the back as the man ran from an early morning traffic stop in the Fruitvale District.

Police said Jimenez shot 27-year-old Mack "Jody" Woodfox III because he thought Woodfox was reaching into his waistband for a gun, although no gun was found. Jimenez gave the same reason for taking part in the fatal shooting New Year's Eve 2007 of another man, Andrew Moppin, who, like Woodfox, turned out to be unarmed.

Police and a deputy from the district attorney's office interviewed Jimenez after the Woodfox shooting, then went out to the scene at night and re-enacted the incident as the officer related it.

The result - although technically the case is still pending, no charges have been filed.

Orloff's assertion deserves more scrutiny than that provided by the San Francisco Chronicle columnists who wrote the story, Matier and Ross. To their credit, they implicitly acknowledge that there have been no judicial determinations that shooings perpetrated by local police officers are justified because the district attorney doesn't file cases against them. But they then rather oddly proceed to cite this fact as an indication that these shootings are invariably legal when it actually suggests that the District Attorney is allergic to prosecuting them under any circumstances.

Nothing like a cop friendly district attorney's office with cop friendly media allies to ensure that nothing ever happens to officers who kill people in the line of duty, regardless of the circumstances. If the family of Oscar Grant expect an honest investigation of his death, they should insist that the investigation be taken away from BART and the Alameda County District Attorney's Office as quickly as possible, because, as they used to say at race track, the fix is in.

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