New Legal Action in BART New Year's Shooting

Wednesday, Oct 14, 2009  |  Updated 5:45 PM PDT
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New Legal Action in BART New Year's Shooting

It was only in the 60s Monday, but that was hot enough to kill a child left in a car.

Five friends of Oscar Grant III who were with him when he was shot  and killed by a BART police officer at the Fruitvale station in Oakland early  on New Year's Day have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the  agency.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on  Tuesday, alleges that BART police officers illegally arrested the five men  and used excessive force against them in the highly publicized incident.  

Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old Hayward man, was shot in the back by  former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle as he was lying face down on the  ground at the Fruitvale station after Mehserle and other officers responded  to reports of a fight between two groups of young men on a train. 

Mehserle, 27, who resigned a week after the shooting and is free  on $3 million bail, is charged with murder in connection with the incident.  

 Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson is expected to  rule soon on a motion by Mehserle's attorney to move his trial away from the  county because of the extensive pretrial publicity the case has received. His  trial is scheduled to begin on Nov. 2.

 The new lawsuit was filed by Oakland attorney John Burris, who  previously filed a $50 million suit on behalf of Grant's mother and his  girlfriend, who is the mother of his young daughter.

The plaintiffs in the new suit are Nigel Bryson, 19, his brother,  Jackie Bryson, 21, Michael Greer, 22, Carlos Reyes, 21, and Fernando "June"  Anicete, 20.

 The suit is seeking unspecified damages from BART, General Manger  Dorothy Dugger, Police Chief Gary Gee and five officers: Mehserle, Tony  Pirone, Marysol Domenici, Jon Woffinden and Emery Knudtson.

Although a specific damage award wasn't mentioned in the suit,  Burris said it will be "a significant amount.   

BART spokesman Jim Allison said today that the transit agency  doesn't comment on pending litigation.    

The lawsuit alleges that Grant's five friends were wrongfully  arrested and taken to the BART Police Department, where they were held  unlawfully in handcuffs for five hours before they finally were released  without being charged.    

Burris said BART police claim that the men weren't arrested, but  he said "they were handcuffed and interrogated and they weren't free to  leave."   

Burris said the men "witnessed the shooting death of one of their  best friends under circumstances that were not justified" yet still were  detained for many hours.  

He said he believes the violations alleged in the suit occurred  were a product of a "dysfunctional" police department that did not have clear  guidelines for discipline, supervision and the use of weapons. 

Burris said he hopes that the new lawsuit, which has been assigned  to Judge Claudia Wilken in federal court in Oakland, will be consolidated  with the lawsuit on behalf of Grant's family, which has been assigned to  Judge Marilyn Patel in federal court in San Francisco. 

Patel will hold a case management hearing on Monday, Burris said.
 

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