Bay Area transit officers cleared in civil rights trial

Former Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle was charged with civil rights violations.

Story highlights

  • A federal jury finds in favor of Johannes Mehserle and 4 other BART officers
  • A man accused Mehserle of assaulting him and the others of not stopping it
  • The altercation occurred in 2008 at an Oakland transit stop
  • Mehserle had been convicted in another incident, tied to a 2009 shooting
A federal jury on Thursday found in favor of five San Francisco Bay Area transit police officers -- including one convicted in a high-profile shooting -- accused of violating a man's civil rights during a 2008 altercation.
Those cleared include former transit officer Johannes Mehserle, who the plaintiff Kenneth Carrethers alleged had assaulted him on November 15, 2008, at a Bay Area Rapid Transit station as fellow officers looked on.
Carrethers asserted, in a criminal complaint filed in March 2009, that he was carrying a canvas bag and paper bag around 10:30 p.m. while talking to another BART passenger in Oakland, California, when the transit officer approached him.
"A verbal exchange occurred," the complaint alleges. As Carrethers walked away, "he was grabbed from behind (and taken) to the ground by ... Mehserle." A few other officers then came upon the scene and, according to Carrethers, "failed to intervene and stop the assault."
The jury ended up siding with Mehserle and his fellow BART officers and against Carrethers, a black man from Oakland.
All concluded unanimously that Mehserle and his fellow defendants -- Fred Guanzon, Keith Smith, Douglas Horner and Robert Haney -- did not deprive Carrethers of his "constitutional rights by using excessive force," as claimed. They also found the BART officers did not violate California law "by retaliating against Carrethers for having exercised his First Amendment right (to free speech) to criticize the police."
Furthermore, the jury determined that Mehserle did not "maliciously prosecute" or commit a battery against Carrethers.
Mehserle has been accused of on-the-job wrongdoing. The other incident occurred on January 1, 2009, also at a BART stop in Oakland.
He was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter last year related to a January 1, 2009, incident that led to the death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant in Oakland. The jury acquitted him of the more serious charges of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter in Grant's shooting death.
The then-transit police officer said, at that first trial, that he intended to draw and fire his Taser rather than his gun when he shot Grant.
Violent protests erupted in Oakland in November 2010 when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry sentenced Mehserle to two years, with the high likelihood he would end up spending appreciably less time in prison.
At least 150 people were arrested during the protests, which Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts described at the time as "tearing up the city."
Although his defense attorney argued for probation, Mehserle told Perry before sentencing that he would be willing to go to prison if the sentence made his city and family safer.
"I shot a man," he said. "I killed a man. It should not have happened."
Mehserle ended up being released in June, after spending less than a year in prison.