Brazen shoot­ings of best friends re­main un­solved

Pair were close friends with Os­car Grant and all three are now buried side by side in Hay­ward; fam­i­lies still search­ing for jus­tice

The Mercury News - - Local News - By Erin Bal­das­sari ebal­das­[email protected] ba­yare­anews­group.com

They were in­sep­a­ra­ble in life. Now, they’re in­sep­a­ra­ble in death.

Buried shoul­der-to-shoul­der in a Hay­ward ceme­tery, their tomb­stones ar­ranged in a neat row, Os­car Grant III, Johntue Cald­well and Kristofer Raf­ferty’s lives all were cut short by a bul­let. But while Grant’s death at the hands of a BART po­lice of­fi­cer 10 years ago ig­nited protests and ush­ered in a new era of aware­ness and anger over po­lice mis­con­duct, the vi­o­lent deaths some years later of two of Grant’s best friends have largely gone un­no­ticed, leav­ing their fam­i­lies des­per­ately search­ing for some sem­blance of jus­tice.

The cir­cum­stances were dif­fer­ent, said Jack Bryson of Rich­mond, whose own two sons were with Grant, Cald­well and Raf­ferty on the train plat­form at Fruit­vale sta­tion when Grant was shot, but their sto­ries are in­ter­twined.

When they were in el­e­men­tary school in Hay­ward, the three boys gath­ered un­der a set of bleach­ers and took a blood oath, swear­ing their fidelity to each other as brothers, said Sharon Raf­ferty, Kristofer Raf­ferty’s mom. It was a bond forged from a pain they all shared: the ab­sence of their fa­thers, said Ze­po­ria Smith, Cald­well’s mother.

To­gether with two other close friends, they shared their early lives in Hay­ward play­ing bas­ket­ball, base­ball and foot­ball, spend­ing their af­ter­noons and week­ends at each other’s houses, Bryson said. Later in life, they helped raise each other’s chil­dren.

“We al­ways talk about chil­dren or young men who are mur­dered by the po­lice,” he said, “but we don’t talk about … any­one else mur­dered by vi­o­lence. No one is talk­ing about that.”

Cald­well and Raf­ferty’s deaths were par­tic­u­larly brazen. Both men were shot in broad day­light in Hay­ward. Both shoot­ings were in pub­lic with wit­nesses pro­vid­ing de­scrip­tions of the al­leged as­sailants to po­lice, ac­cord­ing to Cald­well’s and Raf­ferty’s moth­ers, who both live in An­ti­och. Both cases re­sulted in ar­rests. But none of the sus­pects have ever been charged.

Cald­well was on his way to sell a car in Hay­ward when he was killed in 2011, two years after Grant died, Smith said. He had been plan­ning to use the $1,500 he ex­pected to earn from the sale to take his two sons and their mother, along with Grant’s

daugh­ter and her mom, to Dis­ney­land. Cald­well was the god­fa­ther to Grant’s daugh­ter and made sure she and her mom were taken care of when Grant died, Smith said.

When Cald­well was killed, Kris Raf­ferty played the same role for Cald­well’s kids, tak­ing them on trips or buy­ing them clothes and toys. Both men were try­ing to be­come bet­ter fa­thers to their chil­dren, said Sharon Raf­ferty. They had made mis­takes, she said, but they were try­ing to set out on a dif­fer­ent track.

Kris Raf­ferty was shot in 2016 on his 30th birth­day and died sev­eral days later, Sharon Raf­ferty said. He had been plan­ning to start a new in­tern­ship in con­struc­tion man­age­ment the next day, a job that would have put him and his fam­ily on firm fi­nan­cial foot­ing. Cald­well was train­ing to be­come an elec­tri­cian, Smith said, and she’d of­ten drive him to his classes in Fre­mont.

“I felt so good do­ing that,” she said. “They were be­com­ing men.”

The lack of crim­i­nal charges — let alone a con­vic­tion — keeps Sharon Raf­ferty up at night. Main­tain­ing pres­sure on the Hay­ward po­lice and Alameda County Dis­trict’s At­tor­ney of­fice to find jus­tice for her son and hold his killers ac­count­able has be­come a soli­tary cru­sade, she said. It’s filled with mes­sages that go unan­swered and ap­peals that seem to fall on deaf ears, she said.

“I have no faith in the jus­tice sys­tem — ab­so­lutely none — and, it started with Os­car,” Sharon Raf­ferty said. “My con­cern is that I’m alone, but I’m do­ing what I need to do to get jus­tice for my son.”

Sharon Raf­ferty took her son’s case to Nancy O’Mal­ley, the Dis­trict At­tor­ney for Alameda County, hop­ing it would spur some re­sults. The case re­mains in O’Mal­ley’s of­fice, said Lt. Guy Jakund with the in­ves­ti­ga­tions bureau at Hay­ward Po­lice De­part­ment. He says he un­der­stands the frus­tra­tion both Sharon Raf­ferty and Smith feel. O’Mal­ley’s of­fice de­ferred to Hay­ward po­lice for com­ment.

“I have full em­pa­thy for them,” Jakund said. “You try to do right by the fam­ily and have em­pa­thy and try to do what you can to bring jus­tice to who did this to their sons.”

Still, he said, in or­der to bring charges against the sus­pects in both killings, they need ir­refutable ev­i­dence.

“The tough­est part is not be­ing able to get strong enough ev­i­dence to­gether to get a charge,” he said. “We’re still very hope­ful that we will.”

While Wanda John­son, Grant’s mom, sees a deeper in­jus­tice in her son’s death be­cause it was at the hands of a po­lice of­fi­cer, who was en­trusted with pow­ers that or­di­nary cit­i­zens are not, she ac­knowl­edged the hurt Sharon Raf­ferty and Smith still feel.

“The pain is the same,” John­son said.

But, for Bryson, the deaths of Grant, Cald­well and Raf­ferty are, in many ways, two sides of the same coin. They can all be traced back to a long his­tory of racial in­jus­tice in the coun­try, through sys­tems that first cre­ated ur­ban­ized ghet­tos, then crim­i­nal­ized poverty, said Zachary Nor­ris, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Ella Baker Cen­ter for Hu­man Rights in Oak­land.

Bryson has be­come an un­likely ac­tivist in the wake of Grant’s death, a con­vic­tion com­pounded by see­ing his sons’ friends slain in the streets.

“Os­car has wo­ken me up and given me the green­light to speak on not only po­lice bru­tal­ity but the vi­o­lence that goes on in our com­mu­nity,” he said, “be­cause all of them are in the same cat­e­gory. They’re all sense­less mur­ders.”

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