(01-04) 19:38 PST Oakland
BART's police chief asked for patience from the public on Sunday after video footage surfaced showing one of his officers fatally shooting an unarmed man who was on the ground on a station platform on New Year's Day, and after an attorney for the dead man's family said he planned to sue the transit agency for $25 million.
BART appeals for calm as footage shows shooting
Thursday, January 8, 2009 (Update)
By TERRY COLLINS and TERENCE CHEA
The New Year's Day death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant has led to angry street protests amid allegations from the family's attorney that some of the officers used racial slurs.
The officer remains free and has not been charged with any wrongdoing. And some experts have questioned whether he fired his gun deliberately or mistakenly believed he was using his stun gun instead.
At a rally Wednesday attended by hundreds of people, Shawanda Thomas held a fluorescent yellow sign that read: "Oscar Grant: Murdered! The Whole Damn System is Guilty."
Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums called for calm. "Even with our anger and our pain, let's still address each other with a degree of civility and calmness and not make this tragedy an excuse to engage in violence," he said. "I don't want anybody hurt. I don't want anybody killed."
Grant's family has filed a $25 million wrongful-death claim against BART, the San Francisco Bay Area's commuter rail system, and relatives want Mehserle to be criminally charged.
"They want justice, but they don't want any more violence," said John Burris, an attorney for Grant's family. "That officer hasn't been prosecuted ... That's why people don't have confidence in the system right now."
The video footage has led to debate over whether the officer knowingly shot Grant, as the victim's family alleges.
Reports of police officers mistaking a handgun for a stun gun are rare, but not unheard of. In 2006, a sheriff's deputy in Washington state accidentally shot and wounded a disturbed man after mistakenly using his .40-caliber gun instead of his stun gun.
Bruce Siddle, a use-of-force expert who viewed the video clips, theorized that Mehserle was working under stress in a hostile situation and did not realize he was firing his pistol.
"I suspect he thought he was reaching for his Taser," said Siddle, founder of PPCT Management Systems, an Illinois company that trains law-enforcement officers in use-of-force. "If he was under stress, he would not be able to distinguish between a Taser and his firearm. You have video footage that seems to suggest that this officer made a tragic mistake."
But George Kirkham, a professor of criminology at the Florida State University who also viewed the footage, said he finds that hard to believe because most Taser stun guns do not look or feel like pistols, and the officer fired in a manner consistent with a handgun, not a Taser.
Fatal police shooting sparks violent protests