Another cop receives a relative slap on the wrist

The trial of former gang member police officer Johannes Mehserle ended yesterday with a verdict of guilty for unintentional manslaughter for the death of Oscar Grant III last year. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Grant was shot in the back by Mehserle while Grant was laying on his stomach and being restrained by another upstanding member of the California “law enforcement” community. I have no doubt that this guilty verdict only occurred because the whole incident was caught on video. WARNING: Video is violent, so if you prefer to remain idealistic about how the police can operate, you may not want to view it.

Mehserle claims that he thought he had his Taser in his hand, not his handgun. I am skeptical about this, I think he was angry and the situation was escalated unnecessarily by the officers on scene and he acted rashly. It is not easy to mistake a Taser for a handgun when holding one and this only reinforces my belief that law enforcement carrying Tasers has caused more harm than good.

I think something worth noting (and discussed by Aaron in this post) is the idea of intent over result. While Mehserle faces between 5 and 14 years in prison, Grant is dead. Mehserle stole unknown amount of years from this man unjustly but Mehserle will again be free, possibly soon, because the jury believed he didn’t intend to kill Grant. I personally hate it when people use the intent argument, I think it is weak and used to justify continuing bad policies. Result is what we should measure and result is what we should reward or punish.

SHG over at Simple Justice also gives his take here. I am sure Radley Balko and others will also be weighing in.

And let’s not pull out the tired “isolated incident” defense.

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6 Responses to Another cop receives a relative slap on the wrist

  1. Look- I would like to respect your opinions and objections to police’s abuse of authority and alleged corruption or whatever it is you call the bone up your ass- but it’s really hard to sypathise, much less finish reading one of your posts when you put in phrases like “how the police really operate in this country”- when you KNOW you’re talking about one cop in one city! And the city you’re talking about is the famed Los Angeles Police Department- who most of the country knows has repeated problems with handling their level of stress when it comes to keeping the peace in their districts.

    Now, could you please make yourself more coherent by restraining your hate of all police so that I, for one, can read your posts and sympathise for the victim in this case without feeling like I’m enabling your blind rage?

    And I think I’m doing you a favor as well, should you NEED the help of a police officer one day- one of the MANY GOOD PUBLIC SERVANTS out there- and god forbid they hesitate, even in the slightest – for knowing who you are and how you discriminate against them across the board for the errors of but only a few.

    Get a hold of yourself.

    • Aaron says:

      Your points, summarized:
      1) This is one cop in one city!
      2) Which everyone knows has a history of systemic abuse!

      You can’t have it both ways.

    • Prodigal Son says:

      I will concede that my passion got the best of me for a moment and my wording was not as accurate as it should have been. That being said, I don’t hate all police officers. I have said that many times but for some reason when you challenge the authority of a police department or question the way law enforcement is done in this country it is interpreted as a personal attack.

      This is not an “isolated incident”. This is not just one officer in one department. This event happened because of institutional problems in the way law enforcement is done. Some of the problem is political and some isn’t. This particular case has to do with an officer getting special treatment in the eyes of society. I am willing to bet that an alternate scenario would produce very different results. If a black, non-cop, 28-year old was open carrying a weapon and a taser (which is legal in some states) and got into an altercation with an off-duty police officer and the result was the officer was shot in the back and killed the excuse “I thought I grabbed my taser” would not hold up in court. As a society we provide officers with extensive training on how to appropriately apply force but we also hold them to a lower standard when things turn bad. This perverse incentive is bound to produce unnecessary deaths.

  2. Bilbo T Baggins says:

    Why was Grant being detained?

    • Prodigal Son says:

      He was accused of fighting on the train. The police say he attacked the officers at one point but the civilian witnesses say the officers started punching peaceful people when they arrived. Either way, the fight was over by time the cops arrived and Grant was identified as a participant in the fight.

  3. Bigg Whitt says:

    Some background on the suspect, just for perspective…(courtesy of Wikipedia, obtained from various sources)

    Grant served two state prison terms for various felonies including a conviction for drug dealing. In 2007 he was sentenced to 16 months in state prison for fleeing “from a traffic stop while armed with a loaded pistol”. During that incident, near his Hayward home, San Leandro police shot him with a Taser to subdue him after he threw the pistol into the air and ran. The arresting officers testified that even after being Tased, Grant “continued to resist efforts of the officers to handcuff him”.

    Grant was released from prison on September 23, 2008, and according to the attorney for Grant’s family, John Burris, “had been doing well in recent months.” Burris also stated that the criminal conviction and Tasing was “irrelevant to the BART shooting because Mehserle wasn’t aware of it when he opened fire.”

    In the motion for bail, Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, stated that toxicology testing of Grant’s blood revealed the presence of alcohol (0.02%) and Fentanyl, a strong narcotic pain reliever.

    I am not condoning the shooting of Grant-it was obviously erroneous. But his background definitely makes the “resisting arrest” notion a bit more believable.

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