Ex-Cop Arrested in Oscar Grant Shooting

A fatal January 1 police shooting in an Oakland commuter train station has ignited violent protests in that city, and on Tuesday the involved (now former) officer was arrested on a warrant charging him with murder.

The shooting occurred at about two in the morning on New Year's Day, when Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officers were called to the Fruitvale Station to break up a reported fight between two groups of train passengers. Part of the confrontation between the police officers and some of the men they detained was captured on videotape shot by onlookers in the station. When it was over, Oscar Grant, 22, was dead from a gunshot allegedly fired by Johannes Mehserle, 27, a two-year veteran of the BART police force.

Police officers involved in shootings are generally compelled to provide statements to investigators, but Mehserle, perhaps on advice of an attorney, avoided that compulsion by resigning from his job. On Tuesday, Mehserle was arrested in Nevada after an Alameda County, Calif., judge issued a warrant charging him with murder.

The incident raises several issues, chief among them of course the question of whether the shooting was justified. Grant was reportedly unarmed at the time, but the various videos linked above appear to show Mehserle and two other officers struggling with him. In one of the videos, Mehserle can be seen rising from his knees over Grant, drawing his weapon and firing downward. The bullet struck Grant in the back and passed through his body, then ricocheted upward and lodged in his lung. Grant was taken to a local hospital but died from his wounds.

One must always bear in mind that videos of police incidents may not tell the entire story, but if Mehserle is going to claim the shooting was somehow justified, I've seen little in any of the videos to suggest it. One theory circulating in the Bay Area media is that Mehserle believed he had drawn a Taser and intended to stun Grant rather than shoot him.