“I Thought He Was Going For a Gun”

A preliminary hearing involving the deadly shooting of a BART passenger took a very emotional turn Wednesday.

A Bay Area transit police officer who was on an Oakland train station platform when his colleague fatally shot a young man testified  that his fellow officer thought the man was going for a gun.
Officer Tony Pirone told an Alameda County Superior Court judge that Johannes Mehserle looked shocked after shooting 22-year-old Oscar Grant on New Year's Day.

He said Mehserle had been shouting on the platform that he was "going to Tase him" and that he was having trouble trying to handcuff Grant. Mehserle told Grant, Pirone said, to put his hands behind his back and stop resisting.

Grant was one of a handful of passengers pulled aside by officers after a report of fighting on the train. Mehserle is charged with murder for shooting Grant in the back while he was lying face down on the platform. Mehserle, 27, has pleaded not guilty. The hearing is to determine whether he will stand trial on the murder charge.

Pirone testified for the defense.

He said Grant, "started advancing toward me using cursing words. I feared at that point that that was my next threat.  I pointed at him and told him get back against the wall and sit down."

He said instead, Grant and two other passengers started advancing toward another officer and he described Grant as the ringleader.

Pirone said Grant  "made a couple of attempts to knee me in the groin."

Pirone said Mehserle arrived soon after this.  Pirone said he told Mehserle that Grant and a another man would be arrested for resisting arrest and obstruction of justice.  

Pirone went on to describe how Grant continued to resist arrest even after on the ground.

Pirone said Mehersle started yelling, "I'm going to taze him. I'm going to taze him. Get back get back. Tony Tony, get back" in the moments before the shot rang out.

Pirone said after the shot he thought the Taser may have malfunctioned because he didn't see any probes shoot out. Then he looked away from Grant at Mehserle and saw that Mehserle was holding his pistol.

"It was not something that I expected to see or hear," Pirone said.

Pirone said Mehserle then approached him and said, "Tony, I thought he was going for a gun."

Pirone replied, "Ok."

During Pirone's testimony, Grant's mother sat in the courtroom crying, her face in her hands.

Prosecutors asked Pirone during cross examination why officers hadn't searched Grant after taking him off the train.

Pirone said officers were outnumbered at the time and that wasn't protocol to search suspects if they were in that situation.

Other officers and witnesses who have testified during the hearing have described the platform as chaotic, with screaming and shoving by both the officers and Grant's friends. Some eyewitnesses, however, have said Grant never resisted and was cooperative. They described Pirone as the most aggressive officer on the scene.

Pirone said after Grant was shot and handcuffed, Pirone called for medical help and grabbed Grant's hand and told him to "squeeze me if you hear me." He said Grant gripped his hand.  He said Grant told him he had a four-year-old daughter.

Grant's family was very emotional during the testimony.   Members of Mehserle's family also wiped away tears as he spoke. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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