Oakland transit cop says he thought Oscar Grant was going for a gun

Associated Press Writer

OAKLAND, California (AP) — A transit police officer said right after fatally shooting a man on a train platform that he thought the man “was going for a gun,” a fellow officer testified Wednesday.

Officer Tony Pirone testified for Johannes Mehserle’s defense in a preliminary hearing. The defense has said Mehserle accidentally reached for his pistol instead of his stun gun when he shot 22-year-old Oscar Grant.

The killing of the unarmed black man, which was caught on video by witnesses, inflamed long-running tensions between police and many African-American residents.

Mehserle, 27, is charged with murder for shooting Grant in the back while Grant was lying face down on the platform in Oakland on New Year’s Day. He has pleaded not guilty. The Alameda County Superior Court hearing is to determine whether he will stand trial on the murder charge.

Grant and other passengers had been pulled aside by officers after a report of fighting on the train.

Pirone said Mehserle had been shouting on the platform that he was “going to Tase” Grant and that Mehserle was having trouble trying to handcuff the man. Mehserle told Grant, Pirone said, to put his hands behind his back and stop resisting.

Pirone said after the shot rang out he thought the Taser may have malfunctioned because he didn’t see any probes shoot out. Then he looked away from Grant at Mehserle and saw that Mehserle was holding his pistol.

Pirone said Mehserle then approached him and said, “Tony, I thought he was going for a gun.” He added that Mehserle looked shocked.

Pirone then had Mehserle handcuff Grant, believing he had a weapon. Grant was unarmed.

Grant’s mother sat in the courtroom crying, her face in her hands, while Pirone testified.

Prosecutors asked Pirone during cross-examination why officers hadn’t searched Grant after taking him off the train. Pirone said officers were outnumbered at the time and that it wasn’t protocol to search suspects if they were in that situation.

Other officers and witnesses who have testified during the hearing have described the platform as chaotic, with screaming and shoving by both the officers and Grant’s friends. Some eyewitnesses, however, have said Grant never resisted and was cooperative. They described Pirone as the most aggressive officer on the scene.