The defense attorney for former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle is considering calling prominent Oakland civil rights lawyer John Burris as a witness in Mehserle’s upcoming trial on charges that he murdered unarmed passenger Oscar Grant III, according to court documents.
Mehserle, 28, who is free on $3 million bail, is charged in connection with the shooting death of Grant on the platform of the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2009, after Mehserle and other officers responded to reports that there was a fight on a train.
Mehserle’s lawyer, Michael Rains, has admitted Mehserle shot and killed Grant but claims that the shooting was accidental because the former officer meant to use his Taser stun gun on Grant but fired his gun by mistake.
Burris filed a $50 million wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit on March 2, 2009, on behalf of Grant’s family against BART, Mehserle and other transit agency police officers.
On March 18, a federal judge approved a $1.5 million settlement between BART and Grant’s 5-year-old daughter, Tatiana Grant. However, no settlement has been reached with Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson.
In a recent filing in Los Angeles Superior Court, where jury selection for Mehserle’s trial is scheduled to start June 1, Rains said he’s considering calling Burris as a witness because Burris represents some of the people who were involved in the incident at the Fruitvale station, including Sophina Mesa, who’s Tatiana’s mother.
In a declaration that’s an offer of proof to compel potential witnesses to appear in court, Rains said Burris also represents friends of Grant who were “percipient witnesses to the shooting.”
Rains said, “Mr. Burris has previously held a press conference in which he indicated that the individuals he represents may be reluctant to give testimony which would ostensibly be helpful to Mr. Mehserle and harmful to Mr. Grant concerning many of the events which occurred because they have inherited ‘snitch’ jackets and that their lives are in danger if they give testimony helpful to Mr. Mehserle and harmful to Mr. Grant relating to the events of Jan. 1, 2009.”
Rains said, “Mr. Burris may be called as a witness to get testimony concerning threats or intimidation which has occurred of these witnesses.”
Burris, who has frequently commented on Mehserle’s case on television and at news conferences, couldn’t be reached for comment.