Riots leave Oakland tense, with sentencing in police shooting ahead
SAN FRANCISCO — The involuntary manslaughter conviction of a white former transit officer in the death of an unarmed black man set the stage for a sentencing that could be just as explosive as the trial depending on how the judge interprets the verdict.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry has a tremendous amount of discretion in handing down punishment Aug. 6 against Johannes Mehserle — anywhere from probation to 14 years.
A sentence on the low end could further inflame tensions among the hundreds of angry people who took to the streets of Oakland on Thursday over what they believe should have been a murder conviction.
Involuntary manslaughter convictions call for two to four years in prison, but Perry could tack on an additional three to 10 years because a gun was used to commit the crime.
“I think he could get substantial Thursday night, 78 people were arrested in Oakland as rioters abandoned peaceful protests against the involuntary manslaughter verdict in a 2009 shooting. time, by that I mean like six years,” said John Barnett, a defense attorney from Orange County who represented one of four Los Angeles police officers acquitted of beating Rodney King in 1992. “There is going to be a lot of pressure to give him state prison.”
In a handwritten letter released Friday, Mehserle suggested a possible prison term wouldn’t be his only punishment for killing 22-year-old Oscar Grant.
He said he will forever “live, breathe, sleep and not sleep” with the memory of Grant dying on the train platform and “knowing that Mr. Grant should not have been shot.”
Mehserle, 28, could be facing more than state prison time if a civil rights investigation planned by the U.S. Justice Department leads to charges and a federal conviction.
In a move reminiscent of the King beating case in Los Angeles, federal authorities said they would investigate the shooting.
The verdict against Mehserle enflamed emotions in Oakland, where 30 businesses were damaged and 78 people were arrested for violations that included failure to disperse, vandalism and assaulting a police officer.
Demonstrations, which began with peaceful speeches near Oakland City Hall, turned into spates of violence after nightfall when about 200 agitators broke off from the calm protests and got into scuffles with law enforce- ment officers from multiple agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, Hayward police, East Bay Regional Parks police and Alameda County sheriff’s office.
As people began coming to work Friday in the financial district about 8 a.m., they walked along the sidewalks, pointing at the damage — a broken window here, a spray-painted “Kill the pigs!” there.
“Unbelievable,” one woman uttered. “This is so stupid.”
Nearly every bank along a stretch of Webster and Franklin streets was damaged in one way or another. The ATM at a Wells Fargo branch had been broken into, and windows were smashed at City National Bank, with “Gimme your $” and “Riot!” painted on one side of the building. Police had yet to release a damage estimate.
The trial of Mehserle, who resigned from the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency after the shooting, was moved to Los Angeles following rioting in Oakland after Grant was killed.