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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Trainer: Mehserle was warned of Taser blunders

June 23, 2010
Demian Bulwa, San Francisco Chronicle

A month before he shot and killed Oscar Grant, former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle was given Taser training that stressed the importance of not confusing the shock weapon with a gun - and was even told of cases in which police had reported shooting people by making such a mistake.

That was the testimony today of Stewart Lehman, a BART police officer who helped train Mehserle to use Tasers on Dec. 3, 2008.

Lehman was called as a defense witness for Mehserle, who is charged with murdering Grant while trying to arrest him Jan. 1, 2009, at Fruitvale Station in Oakland.

Defense attorney Michael Rains is trying to show that Mehserle intended to shock Grant with a Taser while handcuffing him after a fight on a train. Prosecutor David Stein says the Taser story is a fabrication and that Mehserle intentionally shot Grant in the back after losing control of his emotions.

In his questioning of Lehman, Rains suggested that the Taser training given to Mehserle and other BART officers had been inadequate because officers were allowed to fire the stun gun just once over the course of six hours. Lehman said the training met standards set by a state oversight agency.

Once they were armed with the stun guns, officers were allowed to choose where to carry them. However, Lehman said, a right-handed officer such as Mehserle was not allowed to position the Taser next to the gun on the right hip unless he aimed the weapon's handle in the opposite direction, making only a left-handed draw possible.

"The intent of that was to avoid the weapons confusion issue," Lehman said.

The jury also learned that officers in Madera, Sacramento and Rochester, N.Y., had reported shooting people by mixing up a Taser and a gun.

Stein, in his cross-examination, had Lehman demonstrate the difference between pulling a Taser and a gun from a holster. He gave Lehman the duty belt that Mehserle had used, then had him stand up and draw Mehserle's yellow Taser X26.

The night he killed Grant, Mehserle wore his Taser just to the left of his belt buckle, with the holster configured for a right-handed draw.

To pull the Taser in the courtroom demonstration, Lehman had to unsnap a button with his right thumb. Then, with the same thumb, he rolled forward a plastic hood over the Taser before pulling the weapon.

Earlier, Stein showed jurors how Mehserle would have had to pull his Sig Sauer P226 pistol. The gun holster requires an officer to roll forward a hood with the thumb of his gun hand, then use the same thumb to push back a lever that frees up the firearm.

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