A BART police officer who was fired for her role in the incident that led to the shooting death of unarmed passenger Oscar Grant III is “very pleased” that an arbitrator has ruled that she should get her job back, her attorney said today.
MarySol Domenici, 29, is “thrilled to be vindicated and to be getting her reputation back,” her attorney, Alison Berry Wilkinson, said.
Wilkinson said she gave Domenici the news today when Domenici graduated from the Contra Costa County Fire Academy in Los Medanos.
She said she told Domenici, “I didn’t bring you a graduation present, but I brought you your job back.”
Wilkinson said Domenici planned to become a firefighter if she couldn’t be a police officer anymore, but she now looks forward to going back to work for BART.
Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward man, was fatally shot by former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle after he and other officers, including Domenici, responded to the Fruitvale station in Oakland shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2009. The officers had received reports of a fight on a train.
Mehserle admitted he shot and killed Grant but claimed it was an accident, saying he meant to fire his Taser stun gun but fired his service weapon instead.
Mehserle was charged with murder, but he was convicted of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter and is currently serving a two-year state prison sentence.
Domenici was placed on paid administrative leave after the incident and was fired in March.
BART said in a prepared statement that it fired Domenici “for being untruthful in both her statements to BART police investigators and in her testimony at the preliminary hearing” for Mehserle last year.
The agency said, however, it would abide by today’s ruling because the arbitrator’s decision is binding according to the union contract.
“BART believes we did the right thing in acting on the independent internal affairs investigation’s recommendation to terminate her employment,” BART said in a statement. “The arbitrator made a different decision, and it is now out of our hands.”
BART said the arbitrator’s decision requires Domenici to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation prior to her return to work.
The transit agency said that once Domenici returns to duty, she will be given her patrol assignment under the process governed by the union contract. That process allows officers to select their work location and shift by seniority.
Wilkinson said BART accused Domenici of making at least 15 untruthful statements about the incident, but arbitrator William Riker “cleared her of each allegation and found that there was no basis to conclude that she was untruthful.”
She said Domenici would receive all of her back pay and benefits.
Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Grant’s family against BART, Mehserle, Domenici and other officers, said, “I wasn’t surprised that she got her job back because it’s very difficult to discharge police officers.”
Burris said Grant’s family thinks that the arbitrator’s ruling is “another slap in the face to them from the judicial system,” but he doesn’t think it will affect the wrongful death suit, which is scheduled to go to trial on May 3.
Burris said he still thinks that Domenici exaggerated the danger that she and other officers faced at the Fruitvale station and doesn’t have the proper temperament to be a police officer.
The wrongful death suit also names as a defendant former BART police Officer Tony Pirone, who was fired in April for his role in the incident in which Grant was killed.
Pirone’s lawyer, William Rapoport, said he thinks that Pirone also will win his arbitration case and will be reinstated with back pay and benefits. Pirone’s hearing is scheduled to begin in March, and a ruling is expected in June or July, he said.
Rapoport said he thinks the incident that led to Grant’s death was politicized.
The ruling in favor of Domenici “shows what happens when a neutral third party analyzes the details” outside the realm of politics, he said.
Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News