The Mehserle verdict is in: involuntary manslaughter with an added penalty for having used a firearm in the commission of a felony. Predictably, grievance groups used the verdict as an excuse to set portions of Oakland on fire and help themselves to some new merchandise at area stores.
To recap, in the wee hours of January 1, 2009, then-Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) Police Officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant while Grant was face-down on the platform at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, California. Mehserle never denied shooting Oscar Grant, but maintained that he intended to draw his taser rather than his firearm.
As an initial matter, BART patrons should enjoy a reasonable expectation that BART cops will not accidentally kill them. I commute to work on BART, and I've learned that there are many ways that one can bring oneself to the attention of BART police, anything from criminal mischief to eating a muffin on the train. If a BART officer is writing me a citation for eating a muffin, I have the right to expect that, while the nice officer is reaching for his pen, he is not going to accidentally pull his Glock and shoot me.
With the exception of Oscar Grant's family (which is understandable) and the numerous grievance groups (which is sadly predictable), no one believes that Johannes Mehserle intended to shoot Oscar Grant. However, he did shoot him, which violates BART patrons' reasonable expectation of not being shot, so Mehserle had to be convicted of something. Involuntary manslaughter was the lowest verdict the jury could return without acquitting him.
Almost the lowest, anyway, because they found him guilty of the additional enhancement of using a firearm during the commission of a felony, and the enhancement is the part that I don't like. Of course he was using a firearm, he's a cop. Cops don't have the luxury of limiting their exposure to criminal penalties by leaving their firearms at home, they need their guns to protect the public and to protect themselves while they are protecting the public. The gun enhancement penalizes cops for the work they do and the hazards they are uniquely exposed to simply as a consequence of showing up for work. And, I fear that BART patrons are more likely to be victimized as thugs take advantage of post-verdict skittishness among the remainder of the BART police force.
I believe that the root cause of this terrible accident was poor training by BART. According to Mehserle's testimony, he had only been trained in using a taser the month before, and he never knew where his taser would be positioned on his belt until he received a taser and holster from a cop going off duty. It appears that BART never gave Johannes Mehserle the training necessary to be able to correctly draw his weapons under stress. And as the DOJ and FBI pursue their racially-motivated investigations of this tragic incident, they should focus their inquiry on BART's training programs.