Johannes Mehserle receives lightest sentence possible for killing Oscar Grant

Oscar Grant (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On November 5th, former BART transit officer Johannes Mehserle was finally sentenced for killing Oscar Grant in an infamous incident that occurred during the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009 at a train station in Oakland, California. Those who followed the case should remember the details: shortly after Mehserle’s partner Anthony Pirone finished screaming racial slurs (“bitch-ass nigger!”) at Grant, the two cops wrestled him to the ground, then Mehserle drew his gun, stood up, and shot Grant in the back. Grant was fatally wounded and died shortly after.

When Mehserle went on trial, his defense centered around the idea that the shooting was an accident, that he had in fact intended to use his Taser rather than his firearm. The defense was absurd on its face. His Taser weighed significantly less than his firearm, had a different feel, was a different color, and was even holstered on a different side of his body and Mehserle was a police officer — a “professional” who receives special training in the use of these weapons and is therefore expected to posses an unusually high degree of competence with them. Furthermore, there was never actually any reason to tase Grant to begin with because, as video of the incident clearly shows, he was physically restrained by Mehserle’s partner and his hands were behind his back and ready to be cuffed at the time of the shooting.

Despite all of these facts, the jurors saw it fit to convict him merely of ‘involuntary manslaughter,’ the lightest possible charge a person can be convicted of for an act of criminal homicide. The charge carried a possible sentence of two to four years in prison which, incidentally, is the same range of punishment that Patricia Smith faces for the fake crime of cultivating cannabis plants in her home.

And, assuming Smith’s appeal for her recent conviction fails, she may actually spend more time in prison than Mehserle because when Mehserle was sentenced the other day, the judge gave him the lightest possible punishment: two years with time served. After factoring in the time served, Mehserle will be eligible for release after only spending about seven more months in prison.

So there you have it: if a police officer commits a grisly, execution-style murder that gets caught on video by multiple people, all he or she has to do is say “Oops, I meant to use my Taser” and he or she will receive the same — possibly even less — punishment than an average Joe who engages in an activity that harms no one.

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