Prosecutors in California are reopening the investigation into the killing of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old unarmed Black man whose fatal shooting by a transit officer in 2009 prompted protests and was among the first to be captured on a cellphone camera and shared on social media.
Grant’s killing “greatly impacted the county and the state,” Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said, citing calls from Grant’s family to revisit the case.
“I have assigned a team of lawyers to look back into the circumstances that caused the death of Oscar Grant,” she said. “We will evaluate the evidence and the law, including the applicable law at the time and the statute of limitations, and make a determination.”
O’Malley did not detail the planned focus of the review.
Grant was shot on a train platform in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009. The white transit officer who killed him, Johannes Mehserle, had been responding to a report of a fight when he shot Grant, who was unarmed, in the back.
Bystander video of Grant’s killing was posted on social media and shared with local news outlets.
As hundreds of protesters took to the streets demanding Mehserle’s prosecution, the officer was charged with murder. Mehserle, who was tried in a Los Angeles court, told jurors that he thought he was squeezing the trigger of a stun gun — not his service weapon — when he fired at Grant.
A jury convicted him of involuntary manslaughter, and he was released from prison after 11 months.
But a report obtained by news outlets last year through a new police transparency law said a second officer at the train station, Anthony Pirone, “was, in large part, responsible for setting the events in motion that created a chaotic and tense situation on the platform,” according to The Associated Press.
Grant’s family said Monday that Pirone — who was fired after the shooting but never criminally charged — should face felony murder charges, the East Bay Times reported. Efforts to reach Pirone for comment were unsuccessful.
The report, which was produced by a law firm conducting an internal investigation of the killing for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, said Pirone told investigators that Grant scuffled with him before the shooting, the AP reported.
But video from the train station where Grant was killed showed the officer striking him in the head and kneeing Grant while he did not fight back, the report said, according to the AP.
The lawyers who recommended Pirone’s firing said he used a racial slur against Grant, as well as “repeated, unreasonable and unnecessary” force, the AP reported.
O’Malley did not say whether the new review would focus only on Pirone, but Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, said he believed it would because Mehserle had already been tried and convicted on state charges.
He said the statute of limitations was likely to be a significant hurdle to pursuing charges against Pirone. He said the Alameda district attorney’s office, which prosecuted Mehserle under a different district attorney, “has known every detail” about the officers’ involvement since 2009.
“There have been no new evidentiary revelations related to the events of January 1, 2009, that Ms. O’Malley has not been aware of for a decade, so I am surprised, if not suspicious, about the motivation behind today’s announcement,” he said.