A witness testified today that she thought a riot might break out at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland early New Year's Day but that she believes Oscar Grant III was cooperative before he was shot to death by a BART police officer.
Karina Vargas of Hayward, the first witness in the preliminary hearing for former BART officer Johannes Mehserle on murder charges stemming from Grant's death, said the situation at the Fruitvale station was chaotic when Mehserle and other officers responded to reports that two groups of men were fighting on a train.
But Vargas, whose video of part of the incident was played in court today, said Grant, 22, was compliant and wasn't aggressive when officers tried to detain him and others.
A video taken by another witness, Margerita Carazo, also was played in court today and pathologist Dr. Tom Rogers testified that Grant died from a gunshot wound to his torso.
The preliminary hearing, which will determine if there's enough evidence to have Mehserle, 27, ordered to stand trial on murder charges, will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday and is expected to last about two weeks.
Before testimony began, Alameda County Superior Court Judge C. Don Clay denied a motion by Mehserle's lawyer, Michael Rains, asking that the Alameda County District Attorney's office be removed from Mehserle's case.
Rains alleged that prosecutors violated state and federal laws, State Bar ethics rules and the U.S. Constitution by trying to get Mehserle to talk to investigators without the knowledge and outside the presence of his attorney.
The hearing was packed with family members of both Grant and Mehserle as well as news reporters and the public.
A large number of Alameda County Sheriff's deputies guarded the courtroom and a big contingent of Oakland police officers kept an eye on demonstrators who gathered outside the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse, where the hearing took place.
After the hearing ended for the day, about 75 people chanted, "Jail Mehserle, the killer cop!"
John Burris, who is representing Grant's family in a civil rights lawsuit against Mehserle, BART, and other officers, said, "The family is very pleased with the testimony today because the witnesses corroborated our contention that Oscar was compliant and non-aggressive."
Burris said he believes the evidence indicates that BART police officer Tony Pirone escalated the situation on the platform at the Fruitvale station and that "the one person trying to keep the peace was Oscar."
Burris said the situation on the platform was chaotic but that "regardless of the scene, officers need to be professional."
Rains has said Mehserle meant to fire his Taser instead of his gun, but Burris said there's no evidence so far to support that assertion.