Former BART Cop Takes the Stand

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The petition submitted by ColorofChange.org alleges that BART officer Tony Pirone "appears to have committed a serious crime" by punching Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward man, shortly before officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Grant at the Fruitvale station in Oakland early on New Year's Day.

    A former Bay Area transit police officer on Thursday had trouble remembering key details of the events leading up to the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a fellow officer on an Oakland train platform.

    Marysol Domenici, who was fired in March from Bay Area Rapid Transit, testified that when she heard the gunshot -- she described sounding like "a firework" go off -- she wasn't sure who may have been injured.

    By the reaction of officers, "I knew it wasn't one of us," Domenici said. "No one had their guns out."

     Domenici was the first officer who responded to the New Year's Day 2009 shooting and was called to testify at the trial of Johannes Mehserle, who is white and has pleaded not guilty to killing Oscar Grant, 22.

    On direct examination by Deputy District Attorney Dave Stein, Domenici couldn't recall information she provided at a preliminary hearing last year. Stein read portions of her previous testimony in which she said she heard Grant and his friends tell her and other officers they were scared of being shot with a Taser stun gun.

    "I don't remember them saying the tasing part, but I do remember them cooperating," Domenici said.

    Mehserle's attorney has said his client meant to use his stun gun instead of his .40-caliber weapon. Stein has argued that Mehserle, 28, intended to shoot Grant and used his weapon because officers were losing control of the situation.

     Domenici said she also didn't remember Grant grabbing her arm minutes before he was shot, but she said a video taken by a bystander showed it. Stein played the tape in court and the grainy resolution couldn't confirm Domenici's account.

    Other aspects of Domenici's description of what happened were fuzzy at best. She said she had to veer around 40 to 50 people coming off the train as she responded to a chaotic scene. However, a platform video camera at the Fruitvale station captures Domenici but most passengers remained on the train.

    Stein accused her of trying to exaggerate to justify the shooting.

    "No sir," Domenici tersely replied to Stein's allegation.

     Domenici, wearing a gray skirt and jacket, also said that one of Grant's friends threw a cell phone at her moments before the shooting. A video previously played at the trial showed Grant's friend hurl the device at another officer.

    Testimony earlier in the trial from witnesses said Domenici's partner, Tony Pirone, was aggressive and hostile toward Grant and his buddies. Pirone, who also was let go from BART, could testify as early as Friday.

     Domenici had testified at the preliminary hearing last year that the shooting could have been prevented if Grant had followed orders from officers. Domenici also said at that hearing that she feared she may have to kill someone after realizing Mehserle had shot Grant. She offered up no similar statements on Thursday.

    Also Thursday, a former police officer who teaches defensive tactics to other officers, outlined what steps should be taken during an arrest.

    Sean McCann told jurors that officers are instructed to look at a suspect's body language and attempt to communicate with them before using any force. McCann also noted it was important for officers to be patient before taking action but added that no two situations are alike.

     "We caution diving in too quickly or without a plan," McCann said.

      In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Dave Stein said emotions got the better of Mehserle and replaced his discipline, training and judgment. McCann cited a document that is used during law enforcement training that says, "An arrest is an emotional situation as well as physical."

    "An arrest should be objective," McCann said. "Sometimes your own emotions get in the way. It's possible it could lead to excessive force."

     Both Mehserle and Dominic's attorneys have argued the officers were not adequately trained by BART.

    "The officers who were out there trying to do a good job and do what was expected of them found themselves in a situation they weren't properly trained for handling," attorney Alison Berry Wilkinson said in an interview in October, 2009.

    BART's new police chief Kenton Rainey, who started the job Thursday, said under his watch officers will get more training, be more visible and be held accountable for their mistakes.

    "We make a mistake, as long as I'm chief, we will own up to it, admit our mistakes, do what we need to do to correct it and move forward," Rainey said..

    The trial was moved to Los Angeles because of pre-trial publicity. Its expected to last four weeks.  Thursday marks one week into the trial.