Ex-Cop Charged With Murder In Transit Shooting

A former transit policeman was charged with murder Wednesday in the New Year's Day shooting death of an unarmed black man.

The incident, which happened on a BART train platform, was caught on video by several witnesses with cell phone cameras. Those pictures have prompted nearly two weeks of angry demonstrations in the Bay area.

Johannes Mehserle, 27, was arrested Tuesday in Nevada and on Wednesday appeared briefly in court, where he waived extradition to California. He was expected to be returned to California later Wednesday.

"He had left the state fearing for his safety," NPR reporter Richard Gonzales told Michele Norris. "He is not believed to have been trying to hide or run ... but word circulated that he left after receiving death threats."

Witnesses said Mehserle, who is white, fired a shot into the back of 22-year-old Oscar Grant while the supermarket worker was lying facedown on a train platform at a station in Oakland. Grant and others had been pulled off a train after reports of fighting, as New Year's Eve revelers were shuttling home after midnight.

"Videos of the action show him being pushed facedown," Gonzales says. "Officer Mehserle has his knee in his back. Then the officer rises, pulls out his gun and shoots Grant in the back. The officer looks momentarily stunned."

Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff said he would not speculate on whether the charge would end up being first-degree murder or second-degree murder.

"At this point, what I feel the evidence indicates, is an unlawful killing done by an intentional act, and from the evidence we have there's nothing that would mitigate that to something lower than a murder," Orloff said at a news conference announcing the charge.

Mehserle's attorney, Christopher Miller, planned a news conference later Wednesday at his office in Sacramento.

The shooting inflamed long-running tensions between law enforcement authorities and many African-American residents.

Hundreds of people have taken to the streets calling for the prosecution of Mehserle, with one rally last week spiraling into violence that resulted in more than 100 arrests and damage to dozens of businesses.

Another demonstration was planned Wednesday afternoon.

John Burris, the attorney for Grant's family, said the news of the charge was "terrific."

"It is consistent with the evidence I have seen. I think the family will be pleased," Burris said.

Mehserle had refused to talk to Bay Area Regional Transit investigators before resigning last week.

"I want to know why he did it," said BART board member Carole Ward Allen. "We've heard from everybody else but him. While I can't speak for the entire BART board, we want to make this process as transparent as possible."

State Attorney General Jerry Brown assigned a prosecutor to monitor the case, and the Justice Department sent mediators to help avert additional violent demonstrations.

From NPR and Associated Press reports

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