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Monday, June 28, 2010

Expert: Mehserle made right call to use taser

June 27, 2010
Demian Bulwa, San Francisco Chronicle

A use-of-force expert hired to defend Johannes Mehserle at his murder trial testified today that the former BART officer was justified in using a Taser shock weapon to subdue train rider Oscar Grant because Grant was fighting Mehserle's efforts to handcuff him.

Mehserle, 28, said last week that he meant to deploy his Taser on Grant, but accidentally pulled out his pistol and fired a single shot into the 22-year-old Hayward resident's back at Fruitvale Station in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009.

In calling retired Los Angeles police Capt. Greg Meyer to the stand, the defense sought to varnish Mehserle's testimony last Thursday and Friday.

But Meyer, who indicated he was paid at least $44,000, was also put through a bruising cross-examination by Alameda County prosecutor David Stein - a session that lasted longer than his direct examination by defense attorney Michael Rains.

Meyer, who often defends police officers over their use of force, said he had not reviewed some evidence that Stein considers vital, and that he did not have a mastery of some of the case's central facts.

Meyer also said he had been closely involved in the aftermath of the Rodney King case, and that he had concluded that the officers who beat King did not use excessive force. Rather, he said, the officers had acted in accordance with faulty training and policies.

At one point, Meyer referred to Grant as "the defendant in this case" before Stein corrected him.

Under questioning by Rains, Meyer said Grant was properly arrested by former BART Officer Anthony Pirone for resisting officers. It was Pirone who ordered Mehserle to handcuff Grant.

According to witnesses, Grant had been in a fight on a Dublin-Pleasanton train. His arrest, Meyer said, was justifiable because he tried to avoid Pirone - the first officer on the scene - by ducking back into the train, and because at one point he stood up after being told to sit down.

Pressed by Stein, though, Meyer said that if a person were arrested for standing after being told to sit, that would be a "cheap arrest."

Meyer said his review of video footage of the shooting convinced him that Grant resisted Mehserle's efforts to handcuff him by keeping his right hand underneath him as he lay on his chest and by using "evasive movements - twisting, turning."

A decision to use a Taser on Grant would have been a good one, Meyer said, because it would have caused lesser injuries than a gun or a baton, and it wouldn't have inflamed the emotions of onlookers.

Meyer also said the Taser training BART gave Mehserle a month before the shooting was deficient because officers were not put in role-playing situations that "got their adrenaline up" and were not asked to make split-second choices between different weapons.

Meyer said he had reviewed other cases in which officers have claimed they confused their gun and Taser, and that in each case the officers wore the Tasers in a way that necessitated a strong-hand - or gun-hand - draw from a holster. That's how Mehserle was wearing his Taser on the night of the shooting.

Meyer said police officers should only draw Tasers with their weak hands to avoid confusion. Stein asked Meyer, who has long given advice to the company that makes the Taser, whether he had said the same thing to the firm's officials.

Yes, Meyer said, "On Saturday."

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