SAN FRANCISCO -- A $50 million federal lawsuit against current and former BART police officers involved in the Jan. 1, 2009, shooting death of Oscar Grant III can proceed to trial, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Responding to a routine round of motions filed in the case earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Patel ruled that most of the lawsuit's allegations by Oscar Grant's mother and friends who were with him the night he was killed should be decided by a jury.
Patel dismissed some claims in the lawsuit filed by Oakland attorney John Burris, including allegations that BART failed to properly train its officers and did not properly monitor and investigate complaints of excessive force.
As a result of her rulings, the lawsuit is now focused only on the officers who responded to a call for a fight on a train that resulted in the death of Grant on the Fruitvale BART station platform.
BART, as an organization, cannot be held responsible for the killing, the judge ruled.
"BART is pleased that Judge Patel has dismissed the allegations that the department did not train its officers properly," said Dale Allen, an attorney hired by BART to litigate the case. "Furthermore, we are pleased Judge Patel found there is no evidence that the department failed to document and investigate use of force complaints."
Burris said Tuesday he was satisfied by the decisions and said BART would still be responsible for paying any damages awarded by a jury.
"The essential aspects of our claims are still active," Burris said. "The decisions were very predictable and I am not surprised. It now focuses the issue very clearly."
Grant was killed by former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle in what Mehserle later said was a case of confusing his gun for his Taser. The shooting occurred as an unarmed Grant was lying on his stomach while a BART police officer tried to handcuff him.
Videos that captured the shooting show Mehserle standing up behind Grant, pulling out his gun, and firing a shot into Grant's back.
Mehserle was charged with murder by then-Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff but was found guilty last year of involuntary manslaughter after a Los Angeles jury appeared to have decided that Mehserle did in fact believe he was firing his Taser when he fired his gun.
Mehserle is expected to be released from jail in the next month of two after serving about 10 months of a two-year prison term. He will be released early because of credits for time served.
Burris filed his federal lawsuit on behalf of Grant's family and friends soon after the shooting and claimed the officers and BART violated several federal civil rights laws and should be responsible.
Many of those claims remain including allegations of excessive force, unlawful detention against Mehserle and former BART police Officer Anthony Pirone. Patel also kept the lawsuit's wrongful death claim against Mehserle.
Other BART police officers also remaining in the case are Marysol Domenici, Jon Woffinden and Emery Knudtson.
It remains unclear when a jury trial will begin but both Burris and Allen said they expected the case could start in the fall. Both sides also said a settlement conference will be scheduled this summer.
"We think this case is worth a substantial amount of money and when the time comes we will make an appropriate request to the jury," Burris said. "I know this, we are on track for a jury trial."