Watching the murder trial of Mehserle: an interview with Cop Watch Oakland cofounder Rekia Mohammed Jabrin

by Minister of Information JR

Outside the courthouse on the first day of killer cop Johannes Mehserle’s preliminary hearing, May 18, protesters watched the cops and the cops watched the protesters. – Photo: Dave Id, IndybayRekia Mohammed Jabrin has been involved in the Justice for Oscar Grant Movement in more than one way. She has been a consistent spectator at the Johannes Mehserle indictment hearings, taking notes, as well as one of the cofounders of Oakland Cop Watch. We are talking to her to get our audience prepared for the July 24 hearings in Oakland’s Superior Court, where Mehserle’s lawyer will be arguing to get the murder trial taken out of Alameda County.

M.O.I. JR: Lets get right to business. I know that you were a constant spectator in the courtroom dealing with BART officer Johannes Mehserle, who was eventually indicted for the murder of Oscar Grant, a few weeks ago. Can you speak on what’s been going on in court in dealing with the case of Oscar Grant, particularly with Johannes Mehserle?

Rekia: Definitely. So two things have been going on: Mehserle’s defense lawyer Michael Reins has been attempting to prove that Johannes Mehserle was mistaking his taser for his gun. The other thing is that he is trying to prove that the act was not intentional, the act of murdering Oscar Grant III. So what has been going on in court is that Michael Reins has been calling a lot of BART police officers to the stand, specifically Anthony Pirone, who was one of the first police officers to get on the platform that night, as well as Marysol Domenici, another BART police officer.

Michael Reins has been asking a lot of questions during the preliminary hearing to establish that Johannes Mehserle had made a mistake. What we know from the outcome of the preliminary hearing is that it was not a mistake. He definitely intended to take out his gun. And what also came up during the preliminary hearing was that both Marysol Domenici and Anthony Pirone, as it seems, definitely had something to do with that murder and I think it is really important that we pay attention to those two in particular and we pay attention to their testimony because there was definitely a lot of contradictions in their testimony while on the stand. And I don’t think that Johannes Mehserle should be the only one set to try.

M.O.I. JR: Contradictions like what?

Rekia: Specifically there were contradictions starting from when Marysol Domenici and Anthony Pirone had gotten word from dispatch that they were needed on the scene of the Fruitvale BART station. From dispatch, there was a call for a “242,” which is a battery call, but no one had actually said anything about a gun being on the train or that there was a gun involved. I think that most of their testimony was based on that there was a threat on the train, that there was a gun on the train and most of their excessive force they justified it specifically by saying they were looking for a gun.

And we also know that in defense of Johannes Mehserle, so many people were saying, “Well, he thought Oscar was going for a gun,” and Anthony Pirone had definitely stated that Johannes Mehserle had told him on the platform that he was going for a gun. And I think that we need to pay attention to those minor details that are said on the stand.

You know Marysol Domenici had stated that originally dispatch had told her that there was a gun involved and when the prosecuting attorney Stein questioned her further it came out in her testimony that dispatch had never said that there was a gun on the train.

The other thing is that the perception of threat was just exaggerated to the point of straight perjury, meaning that they lied on the stand. And I think that we need to pay attention to that. What was the threat exactly?

Much of the testimony of Anthony Pirone and Marysol Domenici was that there were crowds of people coming off of the train. I think Anthony Pirone had said that it was almost like the noise of a football field. That was inaccurate. In much of the video that was shown in court, that was very crisp and very clear demonstrated otherwise and contradicted what they had actually said on the stand, while they were on the stand.

“The other thing is that the perception of threat was just exaggerated to the point of straight perjury, meaning that they lied on the stand. And I think that we need to pay attention to that.”

M.O.I. JR: So now where is the case at? I understand Mehserle was indicted after that series of hearings. Now the case is on its way to the preliminary hearings in October. Am I right?

Rekia: So the preliminary hearing established that Johannes Mehserle would stand trial for murder. So the murder trial starts Oct. 13. I think that it is going to be very important that people show up, that people show solidarity, that people show support for the Oscar Grant family, but specifically that people come out and speak out against police brutality in Oakland. It’s just so prevalent all throughout Oakland.

M.O.I. JR: Can you speak to the next hearings that are coming up?

Rekia: What I think that the defense attorney (for Mehserle), Reins, is trying to do is one, ask for the charges to be dropped, which I don’t think they will be. But I think that his intention (is the same as it was) at the arraignment on June 18 in front of a different judge, Judge Jacobson: Reins wants to push for a motion to change the venue of the trial.

They’re trying to move it out of Oakland and I think that that is the priority for the defense right now. Reins is actually carrying out a survey, so he has an “expert” apparently who will be surveying potential jurors and what that “expert” might do is testify within the month of July.

So I think that on July 24, people need to be present and in mid-September – it might be Sept. 18 – but we have to get clarification on that date. The testimony from the “expert” will determine whether they have found that they can carry out this case in Oakland. And my guess is that they are going to say that they cannot.

And so we really need to stand up and speak out against that. I think that we need to say something to the district attorney about keeping the case in Oakland. I think that it is important that this case stays in Oakland and not be moved away.

M.O.I. JR: Why would the defense want this case to be moved out of Oakland?

Rekia: Well, I think it comes down to what kind of jury they are looking for, right? They want a jury that is going to in some ways not understand the plight of Black people. You know I think that is what it comes down to. I think that we have seen this with many other cases in the past, and we’ve seen cops get off.

And I think that it’s important that people understand what Black people go through. I think that that is a reality in our country. I don’t think it’s a biased reality. I think it is a plain reality.

And moving it out of Oakland, to a less diverse, less attuned community that has not been following the case, that doesn’t know the excessive stress that is on people of color by police in a police state is detrimental to this case but also detrimental for police activity in the future throughout this country.

M.O.I. JR: Well, I know that as a result of the murder of Oscar Grant, you and a few of your comrades have created the Oakland chapter of Cop Watch. Can you speak a little bit about how it was founded and about the purpose and activities of Oakland’s Cop Watch?

Rekia: Absolutely. Oakland Cop Watch started out right after Oscar Grant was murdered by Johannes Mehserle, and I think pretty much it was just Oakland residents frustrated, really disturbed, by police brutality and excessive force, state racism in Oakland – who have neighbors and family members who themselves have been affected by the stress and the racism of police and of the justice system.

And so we have come together in hopes of acting as both observers and advocates, acting as community members to watch the police. I think police need to be watched, and it is unfortunate, but I think that that is the reality.

And again we have to look at what is the reality. Why are police using tasers excessively? Why are they using their guns excessively? What follow up is there? I think just from the Civilian Review Board hearings that have been happening in Oakland, we see that even the Civilian Review Boards have not been able to fully investigate. They haven’t been given the time, the Internal Affairs Department of the Oakland Police Department has not adequately followed through on investigation processes and given the Civilian Review Board enough time to carry out their own investigations.

And I think that we have to actually get out on the street. So aside from the bureaucratic processes of investigations with people filing complaints, so much of the time police are not even disciplined, so much of the time the Oakland Police Department say that they are following policy when we see shootings happening, when we see excessive taserings happening. And there are many things that are never filed, right?

So we need to be out on the streets watching cops. We need to create a culture of watching, of accountability, of stopping police terror in our communities.

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