OAKLAND (CBS SF) – BART agreed Tuesday to pay $1.3 million to the mother of Oscar Grant III, a Hayward man who was fatally shot by former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale station in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009.
The payment to Wanda Johnson, coupled with a $1.5 million payment last year to Grant’s young daughter, Tatiana Grant, settles a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit that Oakland attorney John Burris filed in federal court on behalf of Grant’s family in 2009.
The total payment of $2.8 million represents only 5.6 percent of the $50 million that Grant’s family had sought.
At a new conference at Burris’ office, Johnson said she was glad the lawsuit has been settled but added, “No amount of money could replace Oscar, and my heart still grieves for my son.”
Johnson said, “You still feel the pain daily that he’s not here.”
Grant, 22, who was on parole for two prior felony convictions but was unarmed, was shot and killed by Mehserle on the platform at the Fruitvale station after Mehserle and other officers responded to reports that there was a fight on a BART train.
KCBS’ Chris Filippi Reports:
Mehserle, who resigned a week after the incident, was charged with murder but he was convicted of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
In a highly publicized trial that was moved to Los Angeles County because of concerns about whether he could get a fair trial in Alameda County, Mehserle admitted that he shot and killed Grant but said he had meant to use his Taser on Grant and fired his service gun by mistake.
Mehserle was released from custody on June 13 after serving about one year of a two-year term. He was released early because of credits he had accumulated.
BART’s lawyer, Dale Allen, said BART made no admission of liability or constitutional violations in agreeing to the settlement.
Burris said that was true but added that BART’s decision to pay what he described as “a significant amount of money” is a major admission of wrongdoing.
“It’s obvious when you pay $2.8 million that you are acknowledging that the conduct was wrong, inappropriate and against the law,” Burris said.
Burris, who has filed numerous lawsuits against law enforcement agencies for alleged civil rights violations, said Grant’s death was “the most outrageous police shooting I’ve ever seen.”
He said the settlement will be paid by BART, not by Mehserle or the other officers who were named in the lawsuit, because they were acting in the scope of their employment.
Burris said the reason that he and Grant’s family pushed for Mehserle to be prosecuted criminally is that they knew he would not have to pay any civil damages and a criminal case was “the only way he could be held personally responsible.”
Burris described the settlement as “a compromise” and said he and Johnson agreed to it because a trial and possible appeals could have taken another 2 to 4 years.
Burris said there was some “uncertainty” about how the case would have gone but added, “in my view we would have prevailed.”
Allen said, “Both sides saw the risks of going to trial and the economics involved” in prolonged litigation.
He said a key issue would have been if jurors thought that Grant was resisting arrest at the time he was shot and killed.
Allen said if jurors thought Grant was resisting arrest, they could have found that it was “appropriate for the situation” for Mehserle to decide to use a Taser on Grant, even though Mehserle fired his gun in what he claimed was a mistake.
BART Board President Bob Franklin said the transit agency has learned some lessons from Grant’s shooting death.
In a statement, Franklin said, “We have been continuously taking the actions needed to improve the BART Police Department to ensure our officers are better-trained and better-equipped and we’re working with the community and our customers to earn their trust and confidence by keeping them safe and secure.”
Mehserle’s lawyer, Michael Rains, said the settlement is “a recognition by BART that a young man has lost his life who shouldn’t have.”
Rains said, “I’m heartened for the Grant family and I hope they can put some of this behind them even though I know they can never put the memory of Oscar behind them.”
Rains said Mehserle acknowledges that “he made a terrible mistake” and “feels sorry for the loss the family suffered.”
The settlement was supervised by Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero in U.S. District Court in San Francisco and was reached after five mediation sessions.
On Wednesday, BART will begin a settlement conference with seven other plaintiffs: Grant’s father, Oscar Grant Jr., who is serving a life term for a conviction for first-degree murder, and six of Grant’s friends who say they were mistreated by police officers before and after the shooting.
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