BART police Officer Anthony Pirone testified Wednesday that Oscar Grant III was uncooperative and had to be pulled off of a train when he and other officers responded to reports that a group of passengers had been involved in a fight at Oakland's Fruitvale station.
Testifying in the preliminary hearing for former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who's accused of murdering Grant, 22, at the station about 2 a.m. on New Year's Day, Pirone said he approached a group of people on the station's platform who matched a dispatcher's description of five black males wearing black clothes who had been in a fight on a train.
Pirone, who smiled when he took the witness stand and was questioned by Mehserle's lawyer, Michael Rains, said he was able to detain three males but Grant and Michael Greer ran back onto a train and he lost track of a woman who was with the five men.
Pirone, who was the first officer on the scene, said he pulled out his Taser because there was a large group of people who weren't complying with his commands.
Pirone, who's on paid administrative leave pending the conclusion of several investigations into the incident, said Grant, a Hayward man who worked as a butcher at an Oakland grocery store, entered one car on the train and then went to the next car.
The officer said he eventually reached Grant, grabbed his elbow and ordered him to go to a wall on the station's platform where his partner, Officer Marysol Domenici, was keeping an eye on the other three men.
Grant "was cursing" and said things such as, "Why are you f---ing with me" and "You ain't s---," Pirone said.
He said he then went back to the train and grabbed Greer.
The officer said when Greer assumed a combative stance and clenched his fists, he grabbed Greer by his hair and "took him to the floor."
Pirone described his maneuver as "a hair-pull take-down."
The purpose of the preliminary hearing, which has met for five days and won't resume until next Wednesday, is to determine if there's enough evidence to have Mehserle, 27, ordered to stand trial on murder charges.
Rains has said that Mehserle meant to use his Taser on Grant and fired his gun by mistake. He's also said that Mehserle shouldn't be charged with murder because he didn't exhibit malice during the incident.
Pirone is the fourth BART police officer to testify on the witness stand on Mehserle's behalf so far, following Domenici, Jon Woffinden and Emery Knudtson.
The officers have generally described Grant as being uncooperative and said that they encountered an unruly and noisy group of people on the platform at the Fruitvale station.
In lengthy and aggressive cross-examinations of Domenici, Woffinden and Knudtson during the past three court sessions, prosecutor David Stein, who hasn't yet questioned Pirone, has alleged that the officers exaggerated the facts about the incident to justify Mehserle shooting Grant and to make it appear that they were in more danger than they really were.
But Domenici, Woffinden and Knudtson all said their testimony was truthful and they didn't exaggerate anything.
Questioning Domenici today before Pirone took the witness stand, Stein asked if she considered whether the reason that Grant and his friends kept "popping up" from their positions on the ground was that Pirone "was man-handling and being over-aggressive" when he pulled Greer off the train.
But Domenici said she doesn't think Pirone was being over-aggressive.
Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, who has filed a $50 million lawsuit against BART, Mehserle, Pirone and Domenici on behalf of Grant's family, said in an interview on Jan. 26 that he thinks Pirone was "the instigator of the entire event" and set in motion a chain of events that led to Mehserle shooting Grant.
Burris also wrote a letter to Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff asking him to consider filing criminal charges against Pirone, but Orloff hasn't done so.
Pirone told Rains that he has voluntarily given statements about the incident to police and prosecutors even though he's been advised that he's under investigation for possible criminal activity.
His attorney, William Rapoport, sat in the front row during his testimony today.
Domenici, whose attorney, Alison Berry-Wilkinson, also sat in the front row, said the situation on the Fruitvale station's platform was so chaotic after Mehserle shot Grant that she thought to herself, "If I have to I'm going to have to kill someone" and was concerned that she only had two bullets.
Stein and Alameda County Superior Court Judge C. Don Clay, who's presiding over the hearing, both asked Domenici who she planned to shoot first, but Domenici didn't give a direct answer.