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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Murder charge in transit death - Oakland officer who may have used his handgun rather than taser by mistake arrested in Nevada

January 15, 2009

OAKLAND, Calif.–A former transit officer has been charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed black man that set off violent protests, officials said yesterday.

Johannes Mehserle, 27, was arrested Tuesday in Nevada and was promptly returned to California.

Witnesses said Mehserle, who is white, fired a shot into the back of 22-year-old Oscar Grant while the man was lying face down on a train platform in Oakland.

In videos of the incident widely viewed on the Internet, Mehserle appeared stunned after the shooting, holding his head in his hands. His body language and the apparent senselessness of the shooting has fuelled speculation the officer meant to subdue Grant with his Taser but drew his 40-calibre handgun, roughly the same shape but heavier, by mistake.

Grant and others had been pulled off a train after reports of fighting after midnight on New Year's Eve.

The shooting inflamed long-running local tensions between law enforcement authorities and the black community. People have taken to the streets calling for prosecution of Mehserle, with one rally last week spiralling into more than 100 arrests and damage to dozens of businesses.

Mehserle surrendered without incident Tuesday at a family friend's house on Lake Tahoe, officers said.

Arresting officer Paul Howell said Mehserle went to Nevada temporarily for his own safety. "He just wanted to get out of the Bay Area. ... He wasn't trying to run.''

Mehserle refused to talk to transit investigators before resigning last week. "I want to know why he did it," said board member Carole Ward Allen yesterday. "We've heard from everybody else but him."

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