Oscar Grant wrongful death suits get trial date

October 20, 2009 12:57:43 PM PDT
Two wrongful death lawsuits filed by family members of a Hayward man shot to death by a BART police officer on New Year's Day are set to go to trial in federal court in San Francisco one year from now.

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At a hearing on Monday, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel set a trial date of Oct. 19, 2010, for the lawsuits, which were filed by the parents and girlfriend of Oscar Grant III.

The civil trial date is contingent on completion of a criminal trial for former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle.

Mehserle, 27, is accused of murder for shooting Grant, 22, in the back on the platform of the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 1.

Mehserle and other officers were responding to reports that two groups of young men were fighting on a BART train. He contends he intended to shoot Grant with his Taser stun gun rather than his revolver.

Last week, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ordered the criminal trial moved to a different county, citing the gravity of the murder charge and an "avalanche of intense, continuing and current media attention."

The new location has not yet been chosen.

One of the wrongful death lawsuits was filed in March by Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson, and by Sophina Mesa, the mother of his 4-year-old daughter.

The second lawsuit was filed last month by his father, Oscar Grant Jr., who is serving a life sentence in state prison for a 1985 murder in Oakland.

A third civil rights lawsuit was filed last week by five friends who were with Grant at the Fruitvale station. They claim BART officers illegally arrested them and used excessive force.

Patel said she will decide later on whether the third lawsuit should be included in the same federal trial as the family members' suits, but said that for the time being, evidence gathering in all three cases should be coordinated.

The next hearing on the civil lawsuits is scheduled for March.

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