LOS ANGELES (AP) — The fiancee of an unarmed black man fatally shot by a Bay Area transit police officer last year testified Monday that her boyfriend told her he was being beaten by officers moments before he was killed.
Sophina Mesa, 26, told jurors in Los Angeles that she was unable to get hold of Oscar Grant on her cell phone after she went downstairs and exited the train station in Oakland on New Year’s Day 2009. She managed to reach him during a second attempt in which she described Grant, 22, 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.
Grant was shot by then-officer Johannes Mehserle, who has pleaded not guilty to murder. Mehserle, who is white, was among several BART officers who were called when Grant became involved in an altercation aboard the train that arrived at the Fruitvale station.
Defense attorney Michael Rains has maintained Mehserle meant to pull out his Taser stun gun instead of his .40-caliber handgun when he shot Grant. Prosecutors believe Mehserle did intend to shoot Grant and that he used his weapon because officers were losing control of the situation.
Mesa also said Grant told her that he had been hit with a stun gun before on several occasions, recalling one instance where 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.
The trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles due to widespread media coverage and racial tensions sparked by the case.
On cross-examination, Rains tried to show jurors that Mesa may have been less than truthful about her recollection of the events. He said cell phone records showed two calls made from Mesa to Grant right before the shooting that lasted 37 seconds and 16 seconds.
Also Monday, Dr. Alden Harken, chief of surgery at Alameda County Medical Center, testified how he and others tried to save Grant, who was breathing and had a pulse when he arrived at the hospital.
Grant suffered massive internal bleeding from the bullet that entered just left of his spine and ended up near his right collarbone. The projectile was taken out of a sealed manilla envelope in court but remained in a cup in a plastic bag.
“He continued to ooze from every place,” Harken said of Grant’s blood loss. “He succumbed three to four hours later.”
Mesa, who cried briefly during her testimony, said the couple’s daughter seemed upset the night of the shooting and Grant had made plans with her while Mesa was at work on New Year’s Day.
“She asked him not to leave her,” Mesa said of her daughter. “He told her, ‘I promise to take you and any one of your cousins to Chuck E. Cheese.’”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.