OAKLAND — The commanding officer on the Fruitvale BART platform the night Oscar Grant III was shot in the back and killed by another officer said Wednesday the 22-year-old victim posed no threat to either him or others seconds before he was killed.
The admission, by Officer Anthony Pirone, came during the sixth day of testimony in the preliminary hearing of former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle, accused of murder in the killing of Grant on Jan. 1.
Pirone agreed with the prosecutor that the position Grant was in just seconds before he was shot made it virtually impossible for the Hayward resident to grab and use a weapon against officers even if he had one.
"I didn't see the hands, so I didn't see a threat," Pirone said. "It didn't pose a threat to me "... or any other officer."
Pirone made the statement after more than an hour of cross-examination from deputy district attorney David Stein, who grilled the four-year BART officer about what happened the early morning hours of New Year's Day.
Like every other BART police officer who has testified during the preliminary hearing, Pirone seemed to remember more when he was examined by Mehserle's defense attorney than when he was questioned by Stein.
And similar to other officers' testimony, many of Pirone's descriptions of what occurred on the Fruitvale platform differed from what was recorded by a handful of passengers using cell phones and digital cameras.
For example, in statements given to investigators after the shooting and in testimony on the witness stand, Pirone said Grant had kneed or kicked him in the groin, forcing Pirone to grab Grant's head and force him to the ground.
However, at least two video recordings show no such action by Grant or reaction from Pirone that would seem to match someone being kneed in the groin.
Pirone also appeared to slip up during his testimony, saying at one point that he was trying to "justify" his violent actions toward Grant.
The statement came when Pirone was asked about the explanation he gave previously about hitting Grant in the face with his forearm. In his explanation to investigators after the shooting, Pirone said, "I put my forearm up in a defensive position and it may have come in contact with his forehead."
Stein focused on that statement, asking what Pirone meant by "defensive position" and "may have come in contact."
"Again, I was trying to justify," Pirone said before pausing for a second. "Or describe what took place in the video."
Pirone's cross-examination came after the officer was allowed to describe to Alameda County Superior Court Judge C. Don Clay what Mehserle said just after he shot Grant in the back.
Pirone, who was holding down Grant just seconds before the shot, said Mehserle told him to step away from Grant because he was going to tase him.
"He started yelling, 'I'm going to tase him; I'm going to tase him,'"" Pirone said. "He starts to yell, 'Get back; get back,' and then he yelled, 'Tony, Tony,' and that is when I popped up."
At that point, Pirone said, he heard the gunshot and looked at Mehserle.
"I looked up and saw Officer Mehserle with a gun in his hand," Pirone said. "I think I said, 'Oh, (expletive).'""
A moment later, Pirone said Mehserle told him that he thought Grant had a gun.
"Officer Mehserle is looking like he is lost," Pirone said. "Mehserle told me, 'Tony, I thought he was going for a gun.'""