BART has agreed to pay $175,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by five friends of Oscar Grant III who were with him when a transit agency police officer shot and killed him at the Fruitvale station in Oakland five years ago.
The suit alleged that BART police officers illegally arrested the five men and used excessive force against them in the highly-publicised incident early on the morning of Jan. 1, 2009.
Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old Hayward man, was shot in the back by former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle as he was lying face down on the ground at the Fruitvale station after Mehserle and other officers responded to reports of a fight between two groups of young men on a train.
Mehserle, who resigned a week after the shooting, was initially charged with murder but was convicted of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
He testified at his trial, which was moved to Los Angeles because of concerns that he couldn’t receive a fair trial in Alameda County, that he shot Grant accidentally while intending to subdue him with a Taser.
The suit on behalf of Nigel Bryson, his brother, Jackie Bryson, Michael Greer, Carlos Reyes and Fernando “June” Anicete was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris in October 2009.
Although a specific damage award wasn’t mentioned in the suit, Burris said at the time that the five men would be asking for “a significant amount” of money from BART.
Transit agency spokeswoman Alicia Trost said today that the settlement “closes the case for a considerably smaller amount compared to what would have been a long and costly trial if allowed to move forward.”
Burris said Grant’s friends agreed to settle the case because “they wanted to get this case behind them” and would have had to take time off from their jobs if it had gone to trial without a guarantee that they could return to their jobs afterward.
Burris said the five men also “didn’t want to re-live the experience of Oscar Grant’s death.”
He said the friends have suffered from “the shock of seeing what happened” on the Fruitvale station platform.
Burris said Grant’s five friends were wrongfully arrested and taken to the BART Police Department, where they were held unlawfully in handcuffs for five hours before they finally were released without being charged.
Trost said, “BART is pleased to close this portion of the case, allowing the District to move forward with our continued focus to reform and make meaningful changes within our Police Department.”
Trost said an independent audit reported last year that BART’s police force has made “significant progress” in implementing reforms that were recommended by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement (NOBLE) three years ago.
Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News