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Johannes Mehserle

LOS ANGELES — Former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle on Thursday spoke in public for the first time about what led to his shooting an unarmed Hayward man in the back early Jan. 1, 2009.

Wearing a gray suit, blue shirt and red tie, Mehserle took the witness stand and spoke in a quiet, nasally voice as he briefly described his childhood, his family and why he decided to become a police officer.

Mehserle's roughly hourlong testimony also included a description of the Taser training he received from BART and how he thought fellow former BART police Officer Anthony Pirone had an aggressive style in his police work.

The explanation that everyone following the case has waited to hear since 22-year-old Oscar Grant III was killed won't come until this morning. Court broke for the day before defense attorney Michael Rains had an opportunity to question his client about the shooting.

Nevertheless, Mehserle's appearance on the witness stand immediately changed the course of the murder trial and set up what promises to be a turning point in the case this afternoon, when prosecutor David Stein is expected to begin his cross-examination of the 28-year-old.

Mehserle appeared calm but nervous Thursday. He spoke in a soft and leveled voice but frequently took deep breaths between questions.


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Rains guided the German-born but Napa-raised Mehserle through a series of easy questions before being cut off by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry and told to get to the substance of the case.

At that point, Rains began to ask Mehserle about the Taser training BART provided its police officers and led him, through questioning, to the moment he first noticed and had an interaction with Grant.

Mehserle said he spoke to Grant for the first time after Pirone asked him to watch Grant and three of his friends, who were seated along a wall at Oakland's Fruitvale BART station platform.

Mehserle said he still did not know, at that point, what was going on but assumed Grant and his friends were the people who had been fighting on a Dublin-Pleasanton-bound BART train. He said he knew Grant and his friend Jackie Bryson were angry with Pirone.

"They were yelling, you know, '(Expletive) that officer. I'm going to sue him,' " Mehserle said. "I said, 'Are you talking about me?' and they said, 'No, that guy.' I told them, 'I don't know what is going on. Settle down, and we'll figure it out.' "

Mehserle said he had his Taser pointed at the group while he talked with them and thought that he was able to calm them down.

"But that all changed when Pirone came back," Mehserle said. Several minutes later, Mehserle shot Grant in the back.

Rains had Mehserle describe the difference between his policing style and that of Pirone. Witnesses have testified and videos appear to show Pirone using excessive force against Grant and his friends.

Mehserle said the two had a completely different approach to policing and said he sought advice from Pirone only when he had technical questions about guns.

"His style was a lot different from my style," Mehserle said.

"He reminded me a lot of my drill sergeant, I mean, my drill instructors in the academy. Very hard-nosed. It wouldn't be uncommon for him to be in a shouting match with someone.

"I would say I am the opposite of him."

Mehserle also spoke about his Taser training and said he never was taught about the dangers of confusing a gun for a Taser. He said the BART Police Department did not stress the importance of an officer learning the difference between drawing a Taser and a gun.

Without an emphasis being put on the potential danger, Mehserle said, he did not think about the danger.

"To me, it wasn't that big of a deal," he said.

"I didn't even really think about practicing with the Taser."