DA moves to force Tony Pirone’s return from North Carolina to testify at Mehserle’s trial for murder of Oscar Grant

by Dave Id

Is Tony Pirone attempting to avoid testifying in Johannes Mehserle’s trial for the murder of Oscar Grant? The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has filed papers to force former BART Police Officer Tony Pirone – who was fired April 22 – to testify in the murder trial of Johannes Mehserle, set to begin with jury selection next week.

Apparently, Tony Pirone is no longer a California resident, and it appears from the court document that he currently resides in North Carolina, as a hearing will be held in that state to compel Tony Pirone’s appearance in the trial. The request ends with a statement that, due to Pirone’s hostility towards the prosecution, “If necessary, the People of the State of California will extradite ANTHONY J. PIRONE in the event that he fails to appear.”

Pirone, with his partner, Marysol Domenici, was “the first to arrive on the scene at the Fruitvale BART station on New Year’s Day 2009 when Grant was killed,” reported Reginald James. Pirone was “responsible for ‘setting up and escalating the situation that Johannes Mehserle walked into just minutes before he shot Oscar Grant in the back’ in the words of Dave Id of Indybay.org. Id added that (Pirone) is also the ‘officer who pulled one of Oscar Grant’s friends to the ground by his hair – a “hair pull takedown,” as Pirone bragged in court.’”

It was Pirone, who has described himself as Mehserle’s “big brother” on the BART police force, who ordered Oscar Grant to be arrested, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

It was Pirone who “called Grant a ‘bitch ass nigger’” and was “accused of punching Oscar Grant in the face,” James wrote. And, he added, “Pirone was the officer kneeling on Grant’s back when then-BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle shot Grant in the back.”

John Burris, attorney for the family of Oscar Grant, told KTVU when Pirone was fired, “But for Pirone’s conduct, Oscar Grant would be alive today.”

From New Year’s Day 2009, when Oscar Grant was murdered, until his firing on April 22, 2010, Pirone was on paid administrative leave. BART reported, in response to KTVU’s freedom of information request, that Pirone’s pay amounted to $100,754.73 in 2009 plus at least $32,000 in 2010.

Johannes Mehserle’s defense attorney, Michael Rains, has submitted his list of potential witnesses for the trial and strikingly not included was former BART Police Officer Marysol Domenici – herself fired March 24. Domenici’s exclusion was probably due to her horrendous performance during Mehserle’s preliminary hearing in Alameda County Superior Court, where she was exposed as lying numerous times.

Is Rains having second thoughts as well about the possible trouble Pirone might cause Mehserle in court if Pirone were to testify? Tony Pirone was included in Rains’ witness list, although that list was filed with the court after the request to compel him to testify was made by the DA, so perhaps Rains felt it somewhat inevitable that Pirone would be at the trial anyway.

Surely, police-friendly Rains is in contact with Pirone and shares intimate knowledge of what Pirone’s intentions are regarding any potential testimony. Is Rains coaching Pirone on how to resist testifying? Is Pirone resisting testifying of his own accord?

With the trial set to commence with jury selection on Tuesday, June 1, in Los Angeles County Superior Court, it seems unlikely that a hearing has been scheduled in North Carolina before the trial begins. The District Attorney’s Office has requested that Tony Pirone be present from June 7 through June 25, but it is uncertain how quickly the interstate issues can be handled.

The DA is even offering to pay for travel-related expenses, something Oscar Grant’s family will not receive as they spend a month in Los Angeles.

Will that process delay the trial if Pirone cannot be compelled to testify in time? Will the trial proceed without Tony Pirone should any extradition process become dragged out? And, most importantly, how might all this hinder a vigorous prosecution of Johannes Mehserle for the murder of Oscar Grant?

Dave Id is a journalist and activist who has thoroughly documented the Justice for Oscar Grant Movement with vision, sensitivity and consummate expertise in prolific postings at http://indybay.org/oscargrant. Bay View staff contributed to this story, which first appeared at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/05/26/18648908.php.