BART Releases Report With New Details of Officers' Roles in Oscar Grant Killing

3 min
Javone Sloan holds a sign saying 'Justice For Oscar Grant' during a protest outside an Alameda County Superior Court hearing Jan. 30, 2009, in Oakland. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Updated 4 p.m. Wednesday

More than a decade after the BART police killing of Oscar Grant, the transit agency has released a long-sealed report on a shooting that shocked the Bay Area, led to a rare criminal conviction for an officer's use of force and heralded a national movement for police accountability.

The 94-page report released Tuesday shows that investigators questioned Officer Johannes Mehserle's explanation for the New Year's Day 2009 shooting — that he meant to draw a Taser, not his service firearm, before firing the round that killed Grant.

The document also lays much of the responsibility for the incident, which occurred after BART police responded to a report of a fight on a train, on a second BART officer — Anthony Pirone. The report says Pirone, who punched and kneed Grant after detaining him, "started a cascade of events that ultimately led to the shooting."

The report, completed by independent investigators hired by BART in July 2009, was released by the agency Tuesday under terms of SB 1421, California's new police transparency law.

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Sections of the report relating to Mehserle were redacted, and investigators noted they had been unable to interview the officer.

But they wrote that videos of the Fruitvale Station incident showed Mehserle may have known he was drawing his firearm, not his Taser, before shooting Grant.

"Despite the inability to interview Officer Mehserle, the conclusion can be made from a close viewing of the enhanced video that he was intending to pull his firearm and not his Taser," the report says, noting that Mehserle repeatedly reached for his gun "and on the final occasion can be seen looking back at his hand on the gun/holster to watch the gun come out."

Mehserle fired a single round into Grant's back.

Just prior to the shooting, the 22-year-old Grant, face down on the station platform with Officer Pirone kneeling on his neck and head, had put both hands behind him "in a handcuffing position," the report says.

"Deadly force was not justified under the circumstances," the investigation found.

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A Los Angeles jury convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter in 2010, and he was sentenced to a two-year prison term, of which he served 11 months. He was released in June 2011.

Role of 'Crazy Cop'

The report is unsparing in its criticism of Pirone's conduct in the chaotic 13 minutes before the shooting, saying the officer lied repeatedly to investigators about his actions.

The document says Pirone was the first BART officer on the southbound Fruitvale platform, responding to reports of a fight on a Dublin/Pleasanton train crowded with passengers returning from New Year's Eve festivities in San Francisco.

Witnesses would later describe Pirone to investigators as the "crazy cop," “very agitated," "harsh and unprofessional," and "not calm, not once."

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Pirone left his partner, Officer Marysol Domenici, who was handling a separate issue at a station agent's booth, and climbed the stairs to the station platform about 2:04 a.m. He stopped three black men who'd just walked off the train, telling them either to "sit the fuck down" or "get on the fucking wall," according to what they told investigators.

When Domenici joined him, he told her to "watch these guys," while he ordered Grant over to the wall.

Pirone then got on the train to detain a passenger named Michael Greer. Witnesses described Pirone as loud, aggressive and profane, with one saying the officer yelled, "Get the fuck out of my car" before dragging Greer off the train and handcuffing him.

Grant, meanwhile, was telling his friends against the wall to "just be cool" and "be quiet — we’re going to go home tonight" as they argued with Domenici, according to Jack Bryson Jr., one of the detained men.

Pirone told investigators he saw Grant fighting with Domenici and that he rushed to help her.

"The video, however, shows a completely different story, one of Grant pushing his friends back from Domenici and no touching of her ever taking place," the report says.

When he reached Grant, Pirone told investigators they scuffled. But the report notes that video of the incident shows Pirone shoved Grant against the wall and punched him in the head and that Grant did not fight back.

"Pirone accomplished his apparent intended goal to have Grant sit down. Once down, Pirone kneed Grant in the face," the report says, calling the strike "punitive" and unjustified.

Officer Used Racial Epithet

Pirone told investigators that Grant called him a "bitch-ass n-----" and that he responded by saying, "bitch-ass n-----, huh?"

"For a white law enforcement officer to utter the word 'n-----' to an African American male while detaining him in the tense racial atmosphere at the Fruitvale station undoubtedly contributed to the escalation of tensions," the report says. "The use of such a word diminished Officer Pirone and the BART PD."

At that point, the report says, Pirone and Mehserle began struggling to handcuff Grant.

Mehserle shoved Grant down, and Pirone put his knee on Grant's neck and head. The internal investigation found that Pirone's weight likely prevented Grant from getting his hands out from under his stomach to put them behind his back.

"When Pirone takes his weight off Grant, Grant immediately puts both hands behind his back for cuffing," the report says.

That's when Mehserle drew his gun and fired.

Nigel Bryson, one of the men detained along the wall, told investigators he heard the gunshot, then looked over to see Grant raise his head slightly and say, "You shot me."

The report found Pirone’s conduct played a major part in setting the stage for the shooting and recommended he be fired.

"Pirone’s repeated, unreasonable and unnecessary use of force; his willful and reckless conduct that endangered the safety of the public and his fellow officers; his failure to be forthcoming about the true events; his changing and shifting stories; his manifest lack of veracity; his professionally inappropriate demeanor; his use of a racially offensive word; and his excessive use of expletives, warrant a recommendation that Officer Pirone be terminated from his employment with BART,” investigators concluded.

BART subsequently fired Pirone, who was not criminally charged in connection with the Grant shooting. An arbitrator upheld that decision in 2014.

In the wake of the Grant case, BART implemented a series of steps to improve oversight of the police force, including creating an independent police auditor's office and a citizens review board.

BART also settled wrongful death lawsuits brought by Grant's mother and daughter, agreeing to pay each more than $1 million.

This story was produced as part of the California Reporting Project, a collaboration of more than 30 newsrooms across the state to obtain and report on police misconduct and serious use-of-force records unsealed in 2019.

Updated:

  • 1:25 p.m. To add BART's creation of an independent police auditor and citizens police review board.
  • 4 p.m.: To add date of internal investigation report and BART's settlement of wrongful death lawsuits arising from killing of Oscar Grant.

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