From a ninth-floor courtroom in downtown Los Angeles, Johannes Mehserle, the former BART police officer convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Oscar Grant III, was sentenced this afternoon to two years in prison. The sentence, from Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry, will include credit for the time Mehserle has already spent in jail.
“I want the whole world to know that this is wrong and that we’re not settling,” Yolanda Mesa, the sister of Oscar Grant’s fiancé, told news cameras in Oakland. “We want 14 years.”
The light sentence was a surprising development in the civic and legal drama that has roiled Oakland for the nearly two years since Mehserle shot and killed Grant on a BART platform in the early hours of New Years Day 2009. Mehserle faced up to 14 years in state prison, but the length of the sentence was at the discretion of Judge Perry.
The two-year sentence is the lowest possible for a conviction of involuntary manslaughter, which ranges from two to four years under California penal code.
A gun enhancement conviction, that was thrown-out today by Perry, could have added as many as ten years in prison.
The sentence angered the Grant supporters present at the Los Angeles courthouse. “I think this will have a detrimental effect on the relationship between the police and the African-American community,” said John Burris, the attorney advising the Grant family during a press conference.
“This is a joke,” said Mesa. “He executed my brother-in-law, there’s no question. We’re not happy.”
On January 1, 2009, Mehserle responded to a disturbance on a train at the Fruitvale BART station. While attempting to arrest Grant, who was unarmed and lying face down on the BART station platform, Mehserle fired his gun into Grant’s back. Mehserle testified in court that he mistakenly drew and fired his gun instead of his Taser shock weapon. Grant was pronounced dead later that morning. The incident was captured on video and sparked protests across Oakland in the weeks following Grant’s death. Mehserle is white and Grant was African-American.
In the moments after the sentence was announced, a small and quiet crowd was gathering in front of Oakland City Hall in contrast to the reaction after July’s involuntary manslaughter verdict in which peaceful city-sanctioned protests in downtown Oakland turned violent.
At least one rally is planned for today. A group of organizations led by the Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant is asking supporters to bring flowers to a temporary altar in front of Oakland City Hall beginning at 2 p.m. A program with music and speakers is expecting to begin at 4 p.m. A related rally at DeFremery Park in West Oakland has reportedly been canceled.
Read our past coverage of the Johannes Mehserle trial on Oakland North here.