Claims Tossed on Eve of New Oscar Grant Trial
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Former Bay Area Rapid Transit officials need not face claims over their alleged role in killing of unarmed Oscar Grant III at Fruitvale station, a federal judge ruled.
On New Year's Day 2009, 22-year-old Grant was lying facedown and handcuffed on the station platform when BART officer Johannes Mehserle fatally shot him with a pistol that he allegedly mistook for a Taser. Mehserle was one of several officers responding to reports of a fight on the BART train that allegedly ended by the time the train arrived at the station.
Mehserle shot Grant while fellow officers were apprehending his friends. He served half of a two-year prison term for involuntary manslaughter, and BART settled a civil lawsuit with Grant's mother and daughter in 2010 for $1.3 million and $1.5 million, respectively.
Grant's incarcerated father, Oscar Grant Jr., filed his own lawsuit in 2009. He claimed that Gary Gee, the former chief of BART police, failed to take any action to prevent the shooting. The case went to trial Monday.
Just days earlier, however, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen dismissed Grant Jr.'s claim that if Gee had paid more attention to radio transmissions at BART headquarters, he would have known no one was armed and could have better directed subordinate officers.
"Grant Jr.'s argument fails for the simple reason that they have not pointed to a single fact showing that defendant Gee participated in, directed, or was aware of the risk of the shooting and failed to act to prevent it," Chen wrote. "Further, he has pointed to no facts from which a fact finder could reasonably conclude that defendant Gee knew, or should have known, that his failure to direct his subordinates at Fruitvale Station would result in a constitutional violation, let alone the shooting of Grant III."
The case by Grant Jr. was consolidated with that of Grant's best friend and godfather to his daughter, Johntue Caldwell, who claims that BART officer Marysol Domenici ordered him to the ground in the New Year's Day altercation, threatened him with a Taser and shouted a racial slur at him.
Though Caldwell was shot and killed in 2011 while sitting behind the wheel of a car parked at a gas station in Hayward, Calif., his lawsuit continues. It claims that officer Anthony Pirone, who had no direct involvement with Caldwell, nonetheless set the mistreatment in motion by forcibly removing Grant III and his other friends from the train.
Chen dismissed Caldwell's claims against Pirone on Thursday. "In summary, Caldwell argues that because the unlawful seizure and detention of Caldwell was Domenici's actions as a 'cover officer,' and because her role as 'cover officer' was set in motion by Pirone's illegal actions with regards to Grant III and the other detainees, Pirone's involvement in Caldwell's unlawful detention could not be 'more fundamental,'" the ruling states. "Caldwell's argument fails. First, there is no evidence that Pirone knew of Domenici's plan to illegally detain Caldwell and his group and failed to prevent it. The undisputed facts show that Caldwell was not part of the group (which included Grant and Greer) that was initially detained and subjected to allegedly unlawful force by Pirone." (Parentheses in original.)
He added: "While it is perhaps foreseeable that a crowd would vocally and loudly object to an abuse of police power occurring in front of them, Pirone had reason to know or expect that Domenici would then unlawfully detain Caldwell without reasonable suspicion. The record is wholly devoid of any factual finding any proximate causation between Domenici's and Pirone's alleged actions."
"The simple fact that Pirone's conduct may have been a remote 'but for' cause of a chain of events which eventually ended in Caldwell's unlawful detention by Domenici does not render Pirone an 'integral participant' in the unlawful detention," the decision continues later.