Witness: Ex-BART officer had stun gun training

Johannes Mehserle has said he was reaching for his Taser, but mistakenly used his gun and fatally shot Grant.
June 23, 2010 10:39:07 PM PDT
Former BART officer Johannes Mehserle received his first and only Taser training just 28 days before he fired the shot that killed an unarmed passenger, a witness testified Wednesday. That is when Tasers became part of the BART police force tool belt.

Lawyers for Mehserle, who is on trial for murder in Los Angeles, focused on the lack of Taser training, but the prosecution implied that didn't matter. Prosecutors really focused on the motion officers make when they're drawing their Taser out of their holster and how different that motion is when they pull out their gun. The prosecution says Mehserle knew exactly what he was doing.

Mehserle's lawyers say he meant to fire his Taser, but accidentally fired his service revolver and killed Oscar Grant.

The BART officer who conducted Taser trainings for the BART force testified for the defense Wednesday that Mehserle received the minimum amount of Taser training required by policing standards -- six hours, much of which was classroom instruction.

Defense attorney Michael Rains painted the picture of not just a poorly-trained force, but a poorly-funded one as well.

The Taser instructor, Officer Stewart Lehman, told the jury that during the training class, officers were only occasionally allowed to fire the weapon because the cost of the cartridges, which emit electrical voltage to stun a suspect, is so expensive.

Lehmen also said, "Due to budget issues, we weren't able to purchase a Taser for every officer."

During the day of Taser training, officers were not permitted to bring their guns to the class and therefore never practiced firing a Taser with a revolver on their weapon belt. Lehmen also said there was no time for officers to practice drawing their Taser from different positions on their gun belts.

Grant's family says this murder trial has nothing to do with police training issues.

"The Taser training he has had is the same training that all the other officers has had and therefore he was knowledgeable of what his Taser is, how to use it and the different ways he can use it and he chose to pull his weapon," said Grant's uncle, Cephus Johnson.

The jury also spent hours looking at grainy videos taken by BART passengers. Complicated testimony from a forensic image analyst broke the images down frame by frame challenging earlier videos shown by the prosecution's analyst.

The witness said video doesn't show Officer Tony Pirone assaulting Grant before the shooting, but rather possibly Grant's friend striking Mehserle.

It will soon be up to the jurors to decide whose version of the video they believe.

Rains also indicated Wednesday the high-profile case could come to an end by Monday. He expects to call his final witness, a pathologist, to testify Monday morning.

Lawyers would make closing arguments on Tuesday and the case would then go to the jury for deliberation.

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