BART Directors, Oakland Councilmembers Protest DA's Decision to Not Charge Second Officer in Oscar Grant Killing

A protestor carries a sign with a picture of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III during a demonstration at Oakland City Hall on Jan. 14, 2009. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Several Oakland city officials and members of the BART Board of Directors are calling on Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley to reconsider her decision to not press charges against former BART Police Officer Anthony Pirone in the 2009 killing of Oscar Grant III.

At a press conference Tuesday, Oakland City Councilmember Loren Taylor – along with BART Directors Lateefah Simon and Bevan Dufty — denounced O'Malley's decision. Taylor said Councilmembers Carroll Fife, Nikki Fortunato Bas and Treva Reid were co-sponsors of his resolution urging the DA to reverse course, which was heard and approved by the full council Tuesday evening.

"Yesterday's decision by DA O'Malley to not press charges against Officer Pirone is more than a disappointment. It is a travesty," Taylor said. "We are here to demand that justice be served."

Grant was laying face-down on the platform when he was shot in the back by former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle at Oakland's Fruitvale Station in the early morning hours of New Year's Day in 2009. Mehserle was convicted in 2010 of involuntary manslaughter after claiming he had meant to reach for a Taser instead of his firearm — a claim disputed in a 94-page report released in May 2019 under the terms of Senate Bill 1421, California's police transparency law.

That report also found that Pirone's actions at the scene — which witnesses described as "crazy" and "very agitated" — escalated the situation and "started a cascade of events that ultimately led to the shooting."

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Pirone pinned Grant down to the ground with his knee and repeatedly used racial epithets — later arguing he was only repeating what Grant had said to him.

Former BART Board President Lateefah Simon said during the press conference that the May 2019 investigation shows that Pirone "lied repeatedly" about the incident and used "unreasonable and unnecessary force."

"I want to be clear that Nancy O’Malley has failed again to do her job — and that job was to ensure equal justice under the law," Simon said.

Grant's family was seeking a charge of felony murder against Pirone for his actions.

In the 16-page decision, O'Malley and other investigators found that Pirone could not be charged with murder because his actions did not directly cause Grant's death. He could also not be charged with aiding and abetting murder, the report said, because he did not know beforehand that Mehserle was going to shoot Grant. All other possible charges, the decision stated, had exceeded the statute of limitations.

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During the press conference, Grant family attorney Charles Bonner said much of the report relied on "erroneous" information. The fact that Pirone moved out of the way to allow Mehserle to shoot Grant with what he thought would be a Taser, he argued, could indicate aiding and abetting, noting that people can die from being shocked by a Taser.

"We are facing murder in the street and then murder at the hands of the elected officials, such as DA O'Malley, by ignoring pain and suffering in our crying and our dying of our people," Bonner said at Tuesday's press conference.

Rev. Wanda Johnson, Grant's mother, also argued that if O'Malley allowed the statute of limitations to pass for other charges, she should own up that failure.

"That's not my family's fault. That is the district attorney's fault," Johnson said. "Failure. Failure to pursue a criminal and press charges against him."

The group of officials is also calling on other government bodies in the Bay Area — including the local police commission, San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors — to pass a resolution demanding O'Malley reconsider and file felony murder charges against Pirone.

"We have waited so long as a community — as a national and international community — to get justice for Oscar Grant. And justice delayed is justice denied," Simon said.

Grant's family also plans to continue fighting the case, including by bringing it to the state attorney general and pursuing charges for federal civil rights violations. They also say they'll take the issue to the voters if O'Malley does not reconsider her decision.

"This war, this fight will keep marching on whether O'Malley does the right thing or not," Bonner said.