Friend of unarmed black man killed by officer testifies at Calif. train station shooting trial
LOS ANGELES – LOS ANGELES (AP) — As a group of young men questioned why they were being detained on an Oakland train platform, and grew irate when they saw a transit officer manhandle one of their friends, Oscar Grant tried to reassure them everything was going to be OK.
"'Just be cool,'" Jackie Bryson recalled Grant saying to him. "'We are going home tonight.'"
Grant, 22, never made it home. He was shot and killed by another officer Johannes Mehserle, who worked for Bay Area Rapid Transit and has been charged with Grant's murder on New Year's Day 2009. Mehserle, 28, has pleaded not guilty and resigned shortly after the shooting.
Bryson was called as one of the first defense witnesses on Tuesday at Mehserle's trial. He gave an account of the fateful events that led up to the shooting, including Grant telling officers that he would surrender. Moments later, Mehserle shot Grant in the back while he was face down on the ground.
"He stands up and says '(expletive) this' and he shoots him," Bryson said of Mehserle, who resigned shortly after the incident.
The shooting was captured on video by several bystanders and flared racial tensions that helped lead court officials to move the trial from Alameda County to Los Angeles. Mehserle is white and Grant was black.
A heated exchange in the courtroom came Tuesday as attorney Michael Rains questioned Bryson.
Rains played a video taken by a BART security camera that showed Bryson after the shooting walking toward a train as an officer points a Taser stun gun at him. Bryson said he was near Grant against a wall, yelling at his friend to stay awake.
"What got you that distance that close to the train?" Rains asked.
"My friend just got shot," Bryson, 23, said. "I don't know what I was doing. I was in shock."
"You were in handcuffs, right?" Rains asked.
"You understand somebody just got shot in front of me for no reason by somebody that is here to protect us," Bryson said. "He's supposed to be the good one. You want to make me look stupid like I'm the bad one? Come on, now."
After jurors left the courtroom for a break, Bryson wiped away tears with a tissue as he spoke with Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Stein.
The defense has contended that Mehserle struggled to handcuff Grant.
Bryson, dressed in a navy suit swiveling in a chair on the witness stand, testified that when Grant was taken to the ground he was on his back before being rolled over.
Grant is seen in two videos on his stomach as Mehserle stands over him and fellow officer Tony Pirone has his knee across his upper body. Bryson said he believes Mehserle may have said, "'I'll tase you,'" before shooting Grant.
Rains has contended Mehserle mistakenly pulled out his handgun instead of his stun gun. In his opening statement, Rains said Mehserle told Pirone before the shooting, "Tony, Tony, Tony, I can't get his hands. I'm going to tase him."
Bryson's testimony may have been tainted after admitting he has a general mistrust of police — and even prosecutors — as well as lying about a fight that brought officers to the Fruitvale station.
However, Bryson testified that he was in handcuffs for more than five hours the morning of the shooting after being detained and claims Pirone, who was fired in April, paid him a visit while he was in a holding cell.
"He put his chair up, kicks his feet up and sits there for five minutes with a smirk on his face," Bryson said on cross-examination by Stein. "He kept smiling and laughing."
Pirone, who has been described by some train passengers as being hostile and aggressive toward Grant and his friends, is heard on one of the videos twice using a racial epithet at Grant. Pirone testified last week Grant uttered the same slur first.
Also called Tuesday was Mehserle's former partner BART officer John Woffinden, who said he arrived with the defendant to the train platform and was met with a barrage of profanities and racial slurs by people aboard the train and from some of Grant's friends.
Woffinden had been standing in front of the group of men, including Grant, who had been detained after reports of a fight aboard the train. Woffinden said he heard the shot but didn't see what happened.
"At the time, I thought it was a Taser being deployed," Woffinden said. "The sound sounded too muffled to be a gunshot."
Woffinden added after the shooting that he looked at Mehserle and tried to reassure him that the officers would handle the situation.
"How did he look to you?" Rains asked.
"Scared. Shocked. Upset," Woffinden said.