Video expert’s testimony contradicts what witnesses saw in Calif. train shooting

By Greg Risling, AP
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Video expert testifies at CA train shooting trial

LOS ANGELES — A forensic image analyst called by a defense attorney in the trial of an ex-Bay Area transit police officer accused of killing an unarmed black man dissected videos taken by bystanders of the shooting that contradict what some witnesses recall seeing.

Although Michael Schott couldn’t be certain about what took place on New Year’s Day 2009 on the Oakland train platform, his version of what led up to the shooting casts Grant and his friends in a bad light.

Schott testified Wednesday at the trial of Johannes Mehserle, 28, who has pleaded not guilty to murdering Oscar Grant. The trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles because of intense media coverage and racial tensions. Mehserle is white and Grant was black.

Schott suggested Grant, 22, may have hit former Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Tony Pirone minutes before the shooting. Schott dissected grainy images from one of the videos and pointed out to jurors a flesh-colored object rising toward the officer.

“It gives the appearance of Pirone getting a blow to his midsection,” Schott said. “It could be a punch. I’m not going to tell you that it is.”

Pirone, who was fired in April, was described by some witnesses as being the most hostile and aggressive toward Grant and his friends, who were being detained after a report about a fight. Pirone testified on Friday, but made no mention that Grant struck him. It appears that Pirone punched or elbowed Grant on the video.

Another confrontation between Grant and Pirone later seen on the video seemed to show Pirone kneeing Grant. Schott believes Pirone’s knee goes up because he has to step over the outstretched legs of one of Grant’s friends sitting next to him.

Schott also said it looked like Grant’s friend, Jackie Bryson, swung at Mehserle shortly before being handcuffed and forced to the ground by officers.

“It appears the hand is closed and moving toward Mr. Mehserle,” he said. Bryson was detained and taken to BART headquarters but was never charged with a crime.

Meanwhile, a BART training officer testified Mehserle received six hours of stun gun training a month before the shooting, but didn’t get to practice how to draw the weapon from various positions, a defense witness testified Wednesday.

Stewart Lehman said Mehserle learned how the Taser stun gun worked and was given three scenarios in which the weapon could be used.

Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, has argued that his client, who resigned from BART shortly after the shooting, mistakenly pulled his handgun instead of his stun gun when he shot Grant, 22.

Through Lehman’s testimony, Rains appeared to try to show jurors that Mehserle got the very minimum amount of training on how to use a stun gun.

Mehserle wore his stun gun on the left side of his belt and would have presumably had to cross over his body with his dominant right hand to grab the weapon or his use left hand.

Prosecutors believe Mehserle intended to shoot Grant, and that Mehserle used his .40-caliber weapon because officers were losing control of the situation.

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