Cops Weigh in on Johannes Mehserle

Categories: Law & Order
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Johannes Mehserle
Today, jurors resume deliberations in the case against Johannes Mehserle, deciding whether the former BART cop murdered unarmed rider Oscar Grant, is guilty of manslaughter, or should be outright acquitted. Based on the subsequent reaction of an angry mob, those 12 men and women may also be deciding whether or not blood will run down the streets.

If enraged citizens do riot here, it will be up to the San Francisco Police Department to deal with it. In doing so, they'll be finding one more reason to curse the onetime BART policeman. In the year and a half since  Mehserle fired his gun into the prone Grant's back -- a scenario that may never be adequately explained -- your humble narrator has discussed the situation with a number of San Francisco cops. None of them had much sympathy for Mehserle.

Shortly after the January 2009 shooting, Gary Delagnes, the boss of San Francisco's police union and a 30-year cop, told SF Weekly exactly what he'd have said to Mehserle if he'd been on the scene: "What the fuck did you just do?"

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"You watch the chain of events and it's, like, 'What the hell was he doing?'" continued Delagnes. "One question a lot of us in law-enforcement have is, okay, the guy looked as though he was in a face-down, prone position. And it looked as though he wasn't going anywhere. So the question is, why was there a Taser or a gun out of his holster?"

Delagnes summed up the whole situation as "a tragic fuck-up."

His former boss, meanwhile, likely agreed -- but didn't put it quite that way. Former chief of police and mayor Frank Jordan last week told us that he didn't believe the version of events Mehserle has been attempting to sell to jurors.

My personal opinion is, [Mehserle's story] is pretty hard to believe," said Jordan. "I don't see myself ever pulling out a handgun when I wanted to use a Taser. The handgun is absolute last resort. The Taser is supposed to minimize the situation so you don't kill somebody. It's an interesting alibi and I'm not sure it's one I buy into."

Front-line cops -- the guys out there making the arrests -- told SF Weekly they were perturbed at the outsize media attention snared by this Oakland shooting death. That city has one of the state's highest murder rates and regularly reaches 100 more more homicides a year. Not that this is an excuse for Mehserle.

"Basically, Mehserle really f'd up," one officer told us. "He killed a guy who hadn't earned it." Said another, "I don't see how you can be that stressed out or overwhelmed -- that was hardly a particularly overwhelming situation. I don't mean to be too cynical or grizzled, but that stuff is beyond routine in the Mission, Tenderloin, or Northern [Station]. I don't see how you can make that kind of mistake."

Still, no police officer we spoke with felt Mehserle intended to kill Grant; they pushed for an involuntary manslaughter conviction. "Could I see him doing time for manslaughter? That's fair and what he earned," said one. "You're pulling a gun instead of a Taser. I don't see how you can be that stressed out," said another. "I don't think you can excuse making that sort of an error. But I don't think he intended to kill the guy."

No matter what the jury does, the officers we spoke with predicted a rough fallout.

"We don't want this to look like 'he just got off because he's a cop,'" said one officer. "But we want the law to be applied fairly. Either way, Mehserle's life is over and Oakland will riot."

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