Jury rejects civil claim of Oscar Grant III's imprisoned father

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Oscar Grant III

When a jury in San Francisco this week rejected the civil lawsuit claims of Oscar Grant Jr., the imprisoned father of Oscar Grant III — who was shot to death by then-BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle on the platform of Fruitvale Station on New Year’s Day 2009 — were jurors exhibiting a bias against convicted criminals?

That’s the contention of Grant’s attorney, Waukeen McCoy, who tells the Guardian, “I think they were trying to find something to not give him anything because he’s in prison,” adding that, “The jury clearly did not understand the evidence.”

The elder Grant is in prison in Solano County for a 1985 murder in Oakland, and McCoy said he could be granted parole as soon as next year. McCoy said any financial gain in the case would have gone to restitution for the family of Grant’s victim, to help his granddaughter, and to help ease his own transition into civilian life if paroled.

Grant was divorced from his son’s mother, Wanda Johnson, but McCoy said both the mother and son visited Grant regularly in prison. The civil suit and its “loss of familial relations” standard required Grant Jr. to show he was affected by Mehserle killing his son and that the shooting wasn’t justified, as the courts have already concluded.

“The mom clearly wanted her son to bond with the father, and one reason was to keep him out of trouble,” McCoy said, who said prison logs showed Johnson visiting Grant 82 times.

But McCoy said Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, used the log — which didn’t contain the younger Grant’s name — to sow doubts about the father-and-son relationship and deny Grant joined the visits, even though McCoy say Grant III was along on every visit and that was the purpose of Johnson visiting her ex-husband.  

“There was a relationship there,” McCoy said.

That prison log was one of a few possible grounds for appeal, McCoy told us, although they haven’t yet made the decision whether to appeal. Another was possible jury bias after jurors were told of previous civil settlements totaling about $3 million that Johnson and the slain man’s girlfriend, daughter, and friends received from BART and Mehserle, who was convicted of involutary manslaughter in the killing and served about a year in prison.

“There were a lot of things going on here. I think the jury knew about the previous settlements,” McCoy said, “and they didn’t want to award any more.”

Barring a successful appeal, this verdict would seem to end the emotionally wrenching saga involving Mehserle killing Grant, which was dramatized in the film Fruitvale Station and which led to several raucous street demonstrations against police abuse and racism in Oakland, some of which turned into riots (and some of which resulted in their own civil settlements), and state legislation finally creating limited civilian oversight over BART Police