Mehserle's defense speaks in Grant hearing

May 20, 2009 6:44:12 PM PDT
The partner of a former BART police officer accused of killing a passenger says the shooting happened in the middle of chaos.

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Johannes Mehserle shot Oscar Grant on New Year's Day. Mehserle's partner says police were trying to control an unruly group shouting racial slurs at officers. Grant's mother says the partner is a liar.

So far, none of the lawyers have been able to talk on this preliminary hearing because they have a gag order in place. But on Wednesday, Mehserle's lawyers began to lay out their case for the first time. They said "this wasn't a murder, it was a mistake."

It was some of the most anticipated testimony of the preliminary hearing and Oscar Grant's mother said she didn't believe a word of it.

"From what he was saying it tells me that he's lying and BART is still trying to cover up the situation, which is unacceptable," said Oscar Grant's mother Wanda Johnson.

Officer Jon Woffinden, captured on amateur video responding to the Fruitvale station on New Year's Eve, took the stand in his partner's defense.

He called the incident one of the most frightening moments of his law enforcement career, testifying the crowd cursed at officers and used racial slurs, calling them white devils and one of Oscar Grant's friends threw a cell phone at him.

Woffinden claimed 20-30 more officers were needed to control Grant's friends gathering on the platform and the rowdy train riders watching. He said he stood with his baton in position to ready himself for an attack.

But then prosecutors showed video shot that night that seemed to refute the chaos Woffinden described.

It shows Grant's friends trying to capture the incident on their cell phone, not charging toward the officers like Woffinden testified.

Former prosecutor Steve Clark was in the courtroom observing the proceedings.

"They want to depict a scenario that this was almost like a young officer walking into a combat situation, and that's the kind of situation that is a recipe for disaster. Mistakes can be made," said Clark.

But outside the courtroom, Grant's family and their lawyer said the videos tell a different story.

"What he's doing is trying to protect one of his friends, which is a police officer, that did a murder," said Oscar Grant's uncle Bobby Johnson.

"It's a classic police argument to suggest that people were combative and had clenched fists and that's stereotypic notions and to try to justify their conduct," said attorney John Burris.

The defense also called David Horowitch to the stand. Witnesses identified him as the man that fought with Grant on the BART train prompting police to be called.

But in a surprise move Horowitch denied fighting with Grant, and said that the two had served time together years ago at Santa Rita County Jail and that there was no bad blood between them.

He later admitted that a fight with Grant could mean a parole violation for him, and he testified that he feared police retaliation for his testimony.

Outside the courtroom, he questioned why he had even received a subpoena.

"I don't know why. Maybe mistaken identity or something," said Horowitch.

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