Officer in Oscar Grant shooting begins unsupervised parole
TERRY COLLINS, Associated Press
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Now that a white former San Francisco Bay area transit officer convicted of fatally shooting an unarmed black man has been released from jail, he is also free on unsupervised parole.
Johannes Mehserle, who served one year of a two-year sentence, was released under California’s non-revocable parole law because a risk assessment found he is less likely to reoffend, according to the state’s corrections department.
While Mehserle will be on parole for at least a year, he has no conditions placed on him. He also does not have to meet with a parole agent and his whereabouts will not be tracked, corrections spokesman Luis Patino said.
However, Mehserle would be subject to searches by law enforcement without probable cause for the length of his parole. The law also prohibits sending him back to prison unless he is convicted of a new crime.
“He obviously met the corrections department and parole board’s criteria and therefore they feel his supervision can be minimal,” said Steven Clark, a Bay Area defense attorney and former prosecutor who has followed Mehserle’s case. “He’s a very well-known parolee and his notoriety could work against him in terms of violating his parole.
“People will drop a dime on him in an instant. The whole community will be his parole officer.”
Mehserle managed to slip away from the Los Angeles County’s Twin Towers jail at 12:01 a.m. Monday unseen by the few protesters in the street as well as waiting reporters.
Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, told KTVU-TV on Monday that precautions were taken because there were too many safety concerns to let his client just walk out of jail.
When asked if he felt it was safe enough for Mehserle to return to Northern California, Rains sounded optimistic.
“Well, we don’t know. We’ll know more about that in the next 10 days to two weeks,” Rains said. “We hope he will be able to go home because he has always called Northern California home and he really doesn’t want to call any place else home.
“But if he can’t go home, he’s going to call another place home and he will go there with his family and he will live a productive life.”
Mehserle, 29, was convicted last July of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Oscar Grant, 22, on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train station platform in Oakland on New Year’s Day 2009.
He served his time in Los Angeles after his high-profile trial was moved to Southern California.
The shooting continues to spark debate and racial tension, and occasional protests have turned violent. Last fall, more than 150 people were arrested in Oakland hours after Mehserle’s sentencing.
About 25 protesters gathered Monday at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse where Mehserle was tried. They walked to a nearby U.S. District Court building to demand that federal charges be brought against the former officer.
“We are here because there has been an injustice,” protester Julia Wallace said.
A few federal police officers watched the protest, which remained peaceful.
Meanwhile, a group of demonstrators in Oakland on Monday filed a class action lawsuit against the police department claiming they were unlawfully arrested and jailed while protesting Mehserle’s sentencing in November.
They were among the aforementioned 150 people arrested as police cited them with unlawful assembly, but no charges were ever filed.
The Oakland City Attorney’s office declined comment as it has not reviewed the suit.
On Sunday, about 300 protesters held a peaceful gathering in downtown Oakland as they vented their continued frustration over the shooting and Mehserle’s release.
“The people know it was wrong,” said Jabari Shaw, 32, a protester who had also attended Mehserle’s trial. “As much as we want justice, we’re still not getting it.”
A judge ruled Friday that Mehserle should be given credit for time served and good conduct.
The shooting was recorded by bystanders, and video posted online showed the Bay Area Rapid Transit officer firing a bullet into the back of Grant as he lay face down after being pulled off a train, suspected of fighting.
The videos were subsequently used as evidence during Mehserle’s murder trial and posted online, further stoking the racial tensions brought on by the shooting.
Facing a second-degree murder charge and a maximum 14 years in prison, Mehserle tearfully testified at his trial that he meant to use his stun gun instead of his .40-caliber pistol.
Jurors found that while Mehserle didn’t mean to kill Grant, his behavior was so negligent that it was criminal. He received a two-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
In L.A., Grant’s uncle, Cephus “Bobby” Johnson, was among those waiting in vain outside county jail late Sunday to witness Mehserle’s release.
“There’s much rage in our community,” he said. “It’s a shame that our children still have fear from police officers that come into our communities.”
A civil lawsuit against Mehserle and several other officers involved with Grant’s shooting is still pending.
Grant’s family attorney, John Burris, on Sunday urged the Oakland crowd before their march downtown to remain peaceful as they exercised their freedom of speech.
“There’s still an opportunity for all of us to continue our sense of outrage, our sense of frustration at the (criminal justice) system and do what we can through public speaking, through organizing, community involvement to continue his legacy,” Burris said.
Associated Press writers Greg Risling and John Mone reported from Los Angeles.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.