Former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle and four others were cleared by a federal jury on Thursday of using excessive force during a 2008 confrontation with an Oakland man, sparing the transit agency from a costly payout.
Kenneth Carrethers alleged that Mehserle and four other BART police officers unlawfully hog-tied, kicked and punched him after he confronted them verbally at the Oakland Coliseum BART station. The incident occurred about six weeks before Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant III, an unarmed passenger, on Jan. 1, 2009.
The seven-person jury deliberated for about six hours over two days before delivering its verdict in the civil case at the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. When the verdict was read, Carrethers slumped and shook his head. Mehserle and the four other defendants later hugged each other and their lawyer, Dale Allen.
Carrethers’ lawyer, Christopher Dolan, said his client was “terribly upset and disappointed” by the verdict.
Carrethers was visibly shaken while walking the hallways of the federal courthouse, saying loudly that, “This isn’t over yet.”
Carrethers and BART were engaged in settlement talks over the 2008 encounter, but those negotiations ultimately broke down. The case then went before a federal jury, where Carrethers sought an undisclosed dollar amount for damages.
Carrethers staked four claims against Mehserle and the other officers — that they used excessive force, maliciously prosecuted him, committed battery and infringed upon his First Amendment rights. The jury rejected all claims.
Dolan said the makeup of the jury played a factor in the verdict. There was not one black juror, and the sole minority person on the panel asked to be dismissed earlier in the trial. Carrethers is black.
“It’s unfortunate that Mr. Carrethers did not have a jury of his peers,” said Dolan.
Allen said the jury was selected from a pool vetted by both lawyers.
The jury “weighed all the evidence and found that Mr. Carrethers did not meet the burden of proof for his claims,” Allen said.
Carrethers conceded that he verbally berated Mehserle and the four officers, claiming he was upset that his car had been broken into twice in the past month and that BART police weren’t doing enough to prevent such crimes. However, he said he never physically threatened the officers. That claim was disputed by Mehserle, who testified that he was certain that Carrethers raised his fist in an attempt to hit Officer Frederick Guanzon.
Based on testimony from Carrethers, Mehserle and other witnesses at the scene, the jury ruled that the BART officers responded appropriately to the situation.
Allen said that Mehserle was “very emotional” following the jury’s verdict.
“He just wants to move on with his life now,” said Allen.
Mehserle served 11 months of a two-year jail sentence after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the killing of Grant. He was released from prison earlier this year.
“Unfortunately it appears that Mr. Mehserle will once again get off with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and in this case, a complete free pass,” said Dolan.
Nov. 15, 2008 BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle and four other BART officers allegedly punch, kick and hog-tie Kenneth Carrethers at the Oakland Coliseum BART station
Jan. 1, 2009 Oscar Grant III is shot by Mehserle at Oakland’s Fruitvale BART station
Jan. 7, 2009 A protest march in Oakland turns violent with vandalism, looting and arson
Jan. 13, 2009 Mehserle is arrested and charged with Grant’s murder
March 2009 Carrethers files civil lawsuit against Mehserle and four other BART officers
Dec. 15, 2009 The highly publicized trial for Grant’s killing is moved to Los Angeles
July 8, 2010 Jury convicts Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter, sparking more protests and rioting in Oakland
Nov. 5, 2010 Mehserle receives two-year sentence with credit for time served
June 14, 2011 Mehserle released from jail
Nov. 21, 2011 Federal jury selection begins in Carrethers civil trial against Mehserle and BART officers
Nov. 23, 2011 Mehserle testifies that Carrethers posed a physical threat to fellow officers
Thursday Jury clears Mehserle and fellow BART officers of any wrongdoing from 2008 incident