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Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts said today that he believes his department is well prepared for any unrest that might occur after former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle is sentenced on Friday.
Batts said he expects that protests and rallies will be smaller on Friday than they were when Mehserle was convicted on July 8, but his department will “prepare for the worst-case scenarios” and be ready to remove troublemakers just in case.
Mehserle, 28, was charged with murder for the shooting death of unarmed passenger Oscar Grant III at the Fruitvale station in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009. Mehserle and other officers came to the station after BART police received reports that there had been a fight on a train.
At the end of a trial that was moved to Los Angeles because of concerns that Mehserle might not get a fair trial locally, jurors convicted him of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter plus an enhancement for using a gun.
When Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry sentences Mehserle at a hearing scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. Friday, he could place Mehserle on probation or sentence him to up to 14 years in state prison.
Before Perry sentences Mehserle, he must first rule on a motion by Mehserle’s lawyer, Michael Rains, asking that Mehserle be granted a new trial. Trial judges normally deny such motions and leave it up to appellate courts to decide if a defendant should get a new trial.
During the trial, Rains admitted that Mehserle shot and killed Grant but said he did so mistakenly. Rains said Mehserle meant to use his Taser stun gun but fired his gun instead.
Protests in downtown Oakland on the evening of July 8 after the verdict was announced began peacefully, but there was looting and vandalism later that led to 78 arrests.
Batts said his department made “adaptations” after those protests.
“There are lessons we learned because we want to do better,” he said.
Smiling at reporters at a briefing at police headquarters, Batts said, “One thing we learned is not to train in public before the protests so that the press can see.”
He said there also won’t be a staging area with a large number of officers near protests so that people can’t see a large presence of police officers.
Batts declined to say how many officers will be on duty on Friday but he said “there are enough resources” and officers from other law enforcement agencies will also be available.
He said police intelligence indicates that on Friday, “there won’t be the mass crowds there were in July.”
One group has gotten a permit to have a rally near Oakland City Hall between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Friday and expects that it will draw between 1,000 and 2,000 people, Batts said.
Grant’s family will have a peaceful rally somewhere else in the city, he said.
“The family members are very clear that they are looking for peaceful assembly,” Batts said.
Many businesses in downtown Oakland, as well as some city offices, boarded up their windows and closed early when the verdict in Mehserle’s case was announced.
But Batts said city officials aren’t boarding up any windows or asking employees to leave work early on Friday.
It will be up to business owners to make personal decisions about whether to board their windows or close early, he said.
Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News