SAN FRANCISCO -- Former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle broke down on the witness stand at a civil trial Friday as he described fatally shooting Oscar Grant III at the Fruitvale station on New Year's Day 2009.
On point with his criminal trial testimony that led up to his involuntary manslaughter conviction in 2010, Mehserle said he had been intending to use a Taser on Grant and was shocked when he realized he had shot the 22-year-old Hayward man lying on his stomach.
Mehserle said he was straddling Grant and trying to get a hold of his right hand when Grant made a digging motion, making him think that Grant could be reaching for a gun. Mehserle stood up, shouted that he was going to use his Taser on Grant, and fired. Mehserle said he didn't know he had fired his gun until he saw the weapon in his hand and the bullet hole in Grant's back.
"I was thinking, 'Oh, (expletive),' not understanding how this happened, why it happened," Mehserle, 32, said. "I felt terrible for Mr. Grant. I felt sick."
Oscar Grant Jr., Grant III's father, brought a civil rights lawsuit against Mehserle in which he is seeking monetary damages for the loss of a familial relationship. Grant Jr. was in prison his son's whole life for an 1985 Oakland murder. He is still serving his sentence but is attending the current trial under the watch of correctional officers.
The 10-person jury will also be tasked to decide on an excessive force claim brought against BART Officer Marisol Domenici by Zeporia Smith, on behalf of her deceased son Johntue Caldwell. Caldwell was among Grant's best friends who were detained early that morning alongside Grant by officers who were investigating a report of a fight on a train involving black men in black clothing. Caldwell, 25, was fatally shot in an unrelated gas station shooting in Hayward in 2011.
Attorney Waukeen McCoy, representing Grant Jr., aggressively questioned Mehserle on Friday to raise doubt as to whether Mehserle meant to reach for his Taser. Mehserle had no confusion during the two times he brandished his Taser to Grant III and his friends before the shooting, McCoy said, and it was clear that the Taser's pointing red light wasn't aimed on Grant III before Mehserle pulled the trigger.
Mehserle said he was trying to deploy his Taser as fast as possible because Grant posed a threat, while McCoy said that Grant was clearly not a threat as he was subdued on his stomach with Mehserle on his back and the lead officer, Tony Pirone, with his knee in Grant's neck.
"You thought he wanted to record the brutality that you and Officer Pirone were doing, correct?" McCoy asked.
Mehserle said that although he had ordered Grant III to put his cellphone away, he was not angry at Grant III and didn't know Grant III had taken a picture of him during the detainment until after the fact.
The shooting and the events leading up to the incident was caught on cellphone cameras by people at the crowded station, sparked protests and riots, and inspired the Hollywood film "Fruitvale Station."
Mehserle on Friday recalled the shouts of outrage directed at him after he fired the gun.
"I have never felt so small in my entire life," Mehserle said.
The trial continues Monday with testimony from Pirone, who is still in arbitration over his firing from the BART force over that night.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684.
Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.