AP file photoFormer BART police officer Johannes Mehserle spent a year in prison after fatally shooting Oscar Grant III on Jan. 1

Mehserle, BART cops criticized for ignoring protocol in 2008 scuffle

BART’s former police chief testified on Tuesday that Johannes Mehserle and four other police officers committed an “oversight” when they failed to submit a use-of-force memorandum or collect video footage following an incident with an Oakland man who is suing the transit agency.

Mehserle, who served a year in prison for fatally shooting Oscar Grant III on Jan. 1, 2009, also is one of five officers accused of using excessive force when they detained Kenneth Carrethers during a confrontation at the Coliseum BART station in November 2008. Tuesday was the first day of a civil jury trial in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

Gary Gee, the former BART police chief who left the agency amid controversy for his handling of the Grant case, conceded under questioning Tuesday that the five officers committed a series of missteps in their handling of the case.

Mehserle and his fellow officers should have filed use-of-force memos — mandatory reports following incidents where someone is forcefully detained — Gee told Carrethers’ lawyer, Christopher Dolan. The officers also should have obtained video footage from the numerous security cameras nearby to justify their use of force, Gee said.

When asked by Dolan if this was a failure on the officers’ part, Gee called it “an oversight.”

Dale Allen, representing the five officers, said Mehserle and Officer Frederick Guanzon described in detail their interactions with Carrethers in a separate police report.

“Nobody’s hiding anything,” Allen said during his opening statement.

The lawsuit stems from a Nov. 8, 2008, incident in which Carrethers, who was returning home from work, verbally taunted BART officers for being ineffective. In court papers, Carrethers alleged that Mehserle leg-swiped him and brought him to the ground, where four other officers kicked and punched him.

But Allen said the officers’ actions were justified because Carrethers clenched his fists in a motion to strike Guanzon when Mehserle stepped in to prevent the assault. However, Dolan noted that neither Mehserle nor Guanzon mentioned any clenched fists in their police reports. Carrethers was initially charged with resisting arrest and threatening an officer as a result of the incident. Those charges were later dropped by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

Gee said the officers had the right to use force if it was clear that Carrethers was about to assault someone.

However, the former chief said verbal taunts do not constitute such a threat.

Mehserle, dressed in a blue striped shirt with a tie and a black overcoat, looked somber during the testimony, although he smiled and shared a few chuckles with his fellow defendants during a brief break in the action. He declined to speak while in the courtroom hallway.

Carrethers is seeking an unspecified amount of money as a result of the incident. Mehserle is scheduled to testify later in the trial.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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