On Tuesday a federal appeals court cleared the way for Oscar Grant’s father and friends to sue the police officer who fatally shot Grant. The cout’s ruling allows two civil lawsuits against former BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officer Johannes Mehserle and other officers by the father of Oscar Grant III and five of Grant’s friends to go forward.
Grant was only 22 when he was fatally shot by Mehersle at BART’s Fruitvale station in Oakland in 2009. Officers were responding to calls of a fight on the train when Mehersle, who said he confused his pistol with his stun gun, fatally shot Grant. Mehersle served two years in jail for involuntary manslaughter.
The lawsuit filed by five of Grant’s friends who were on the train with Grant on the night he was fatally shot claims they were handcuffed by police for several hours but never charged with a crime.
The friends are suing because they say the officers used excessive force while Grant’s father claims the fatal shooting of his son denied him the right of familial association.
In their ruling, the San Francisco appeals court denied Mehserle and former officer Anthony Pirone’s claim that they were protected from the lawsuits by the doctrine of qualified immunity.
Normally the doctrine protects government workers from being sued while carrying out their duties unless the acts are unconstitutional. The court ruled that the jury should decide whether the acts committed by the officers are unconstitutional.
Circuit Judge Mary Murguia wrote, “It is possible that a jury will conclude, after weighing all the facts, that the officers committed no constitutional wrongs.” But the jury will have the final word.