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Prosecutors Are Reopening the Investigation into the Fatal Shooting of Oscar Grant

Illustration for article titled Prosecutors Are Reopening the Investigation into the Fatal Shooting of Oscar Grant
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

A district attorney in California has announced that the office will reopen its investigation into killing of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by a transit officer in 2009.

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Grant’s death was among the first instances of bystanders using cell phone cameras to capture police violence and to spark mass protest. The footage showed Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle shooting Grant, who was unarmed, in the back, after responding to a report of a fight on the train platform.

Following protests across Oakland calling to prosecute Mehserle, the Alameda county district attorney’s office charged the officer with murder. But after a trial where Mehserle testified that he thought he’d been shooting a stun gun at Grant rather than a service gun, a Los Angeles jury convicted him of involuntary manslaughter.

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He was sentenced to two years in jail, but was released after just 11 months for good behavior.

Though Mehserle can’t be tried for the same crime twice, he can still be brought up on new charges, as can other officers who were on the scene at the time. Grant’s family was holding a press conference on Monday, demanding the DA bring felony murder charges against another police officer who admitted to assaulting Grant—escalating the incident, according to the family—when the DA’s office announced it would take another look at the case.

“We have listened closely to the requests of the family of Oscar Grant,” Alameda District Attorney Nancy O’Malley wrote in a statement. “I have assigned a team of lawyers to look back into the circumstances that caused the death of Oscar Grant. We will evaluate the evidence and the law, including the applicable law at the time and the statute of limitations and make a determination.”

The decision arrives on the heels of national protests in response to the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Wanda Johnson, Grant’s mother, said on Monday that if more people had paid attention to what had happened to her son more than a decade ago “there would be no killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. ... Now this reopening is a whole new flashpoint that will reverberate all across this nation.”

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At the same time, she’s not getting her hopes up. Even amid a national reckoning with police brutality and racial violence, it’s still unlikely her family will get the justice they’re looking for through the DA’s office.

“I urge a decision to be made quickly. We should not have to wait another 11 years,” Johnson said. “If our judicial system continues to not honor their word then we will continue to be out here and remind the world of how our judicial system is continuing to fail people of color.”

Night blogger at Jezebel with writing at Vice, The Nation, Gothamist, The Awl, and more.

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