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Judge: BART Not Legally Responsible For Oscar Grant’s Death

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A federal judge ruled Tuesday that BART, as an organization, cannot be held legally responsible for the 2009 shooting death of Oscar Grant III at Oakland’s Fruitvale Station.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Patel, in a 56-page decision, said most of the issues in a $50 million federal lawsuit on behalf of Grant’s family against current and former BART police officers should be decided at a jury trial that could be held later this year.

Photo Gallery: The Shooting Of Oscar Grant

Seven men who were with Grant when he was killed are also plaintiffs in the suit.

Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward man who was unarmed, was shot and killed by former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle on New Year’s Day in 2009 after Mehserle and other officers responded to reports that there was a fight on a BART train.

Mehserle, who resigned a week after the incident, was charged with murder. Last July, jurors convicted him of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. It is expected that he will be released from prison sometime in the next few months.

Mehserle admitted during his trial that he fatally shot Grant but said he had meant to fire his Taser and fired his gun by mistake.

Dale Allen, an attorney hired by BART, said Patel found that there was no evidence that BART failed to investigate complaints that its officers were overly aggressive in using force.

Allen said Patel also found that there was insufficient evidence to show that Mehserle and fellow officer Tony Pirone had engaged in a pattern and practice of improperly using force in incidents prior to Grant’s death.

Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, who represents Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, said that although BART cannot be found liable as an organization, “the case fundamentally is the same” because the primary targets of the lawsuit are Mehserle and Pirone.

Burris said he thinks Pirone sparked the fatal shooting of Grant by acting aggressively when he confronted Grant.

Of Patel’s ruling, Burris said, “We’re not surprised or disappointed.”

“BART is still on the hook for damages,” he said, if a jury finds that officers acted improperly.

In addition to Meshserle and Pirone, the suit names former BART Police Chief Gary Gee and officers Marysol Domenici, Jon Woffinden and Emery Knudtson.

In January 2010, BART reached a settlement with the mother of Grant’s daughter, Tatiana Grant, who is now 6 years old.

Allen said BART continues to try to resolve the case before it goes to trial if Grant’s family and the other plaintiffs in the case make “a reasonable settlement demand.”

He said if a settlement is not reached, the case probably would not go to trial until this fall or next winter because Patel is retiring and a new judge would be assigned to the case.

Burris said he hopes the case would go to trial in the fall.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

  • Dennis Nichols

    And yet again…A cop gets away with murder and his supervisors and management are not held to account for breeding a culture of lies and deceit in “enforcing” the law

  • Alex Sanders

    More like just another cash cow for criminals. Its all about the chance at big money. BART don’t settle with these clowns. Oscars mom yes but these other clowns, tell them to go spit.

  • hugo poppernuts

    I’m just wondering if the cop would have been mexican or chinese instead of white, would there still be arguments of a racial stigma as there was during the earlier stages of this case?

  • JQP

    Murder is still MURDER. The cop shot an unarmed man in the back. As a white person, I wonder he would have been so quick to shoot if Mr Grant had been the same color as the cop….

  • ZagYee

    Oh I am sure someone is now going to emerge from a crack in the floor somewhere and make a big ole “Black Thang” out of it. I can see it already. ACLU? Al Sharpton? Jesse Jackson? Somebody?

  • Miser

    Is that Buckwheat? I be dead

  • Tom W

    Stupid Smug smile on that thug face. I am soooo glad there is one less thug running around making trouble.

    • poo

      fuk u

  • Tony

    Yep, one less dirt bag. Mehserle should get a medal.

  • adam

    One less criminal to support…Mehserle is our true hero who has the balls to take care of business!

  • RealityCheck

    “BART is still on the hook for damages,” he said, if a jury finds that officers acted improperly.

    You tell’em Burris! Its all about gettin’ paid! And you are going to get paid, what 33% of whatever the family gets out of BART? Not being and edumacated civil attorney, I really was hoping that Judge Patel’s ruling would keep you from being able to fleece BART’s deep pockets. Go ahead and go after Pirone and Mehserle, they’re just a couple dumb crackers, but how much do you expect to get out of those turnips?

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