Johannes Mehserle Sentence 'Sends Wrong Message,' Lawyer Says

Categories: Law & Order
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A veteran civil rights attorney who has sued the Oakland and BART Police Departments more times than he can remember lamented ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle's two-year sentence -- the shortest sentence Judge Robert Perry could have handed down.

Jim Chanin has represented more than 500 clients suing the Oakland Police Department and filed suit at least 75 times. He referred to today's sentence as "inadequate ... I think it sends the wrong message at the wrong time to people who are looking to the law to provide justice in this country."

Chanin pointed the finger not only at Mehserle regarding the death of unarmed passenger Oscar Grant, but BART police higher-ups and "those who trained these officers and disciplined them." The attorney noted that, in court cases he has handled, it was revealed that BART officers did not have to report the use of force on passengers -- "unless they were sure someone was going to the hospital."

One of the biggest factors in today's short sentence was the gun enhancement charges being dismissed by Perry -- which sets up a future trial solely relating to gun enhancement charges. Those charges could have added 10 years to Mehserle's sentence. Chanin, however, said it's unclear that the Alameda County District Attorney's office will even opt to prosecute that trial -- and may concede if it feels the case is not winnable.

The veteran attorney did find some silver linings in today's sentencing, however.

"In my lifetime, when I was a kid driving through the south and seeing whites-only signs and when I moved to Oakland and saw what the police were doing ... it's easy to say there's been no progress since that time when you're embittered. But it's not true," he says. "There has been progress. This does indicate one more step along that road. But it shows how far we have to go as much as it shows how far we have come.

"We have a long way to go until police are treated equally to the citizens of East Oakland."

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