Oscar Grant Plaintiffs Fight Appeal
Fed appeals court to hear defense of civil rights ruling
San Francisco — On Monday morning, two prominent civil rights attorneys will argue before the U.S. Court of Appeals that the BART police officers whose actions led to the killing of Oscar Grant should not receive legal immunity against a civil lawsuit because their actions were unconstitutional.
Oakland attorneys Dan Siegel and John Burris will appear in Courtroom 1 at 9 a.m. at the federal courthouse at 7th and Mission to defend federal Judge Marilyn Patel’s decision last year that Marysol Domenici and Anthony Pirone could not, based on police immunity, summarily dismiss the suit brought by Grant’s estate and a group of his friends who were on the train platform the night of his slaying in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, 2009.
Among the issues to be debated are whether the officers had reasonable cause to detain the group of revelers, who were standing on the platform as the train idled at Oakland’s Fruitvale BART station, and whether ignoring the officers initial, allegedly unfounded, demands is a protected civil right.
The plaintiffs in the civil case argue that the arrests were unlawful and thus outside the scope of immunity for harm granted to police doing their job within constitutional parameters. Officer Pirone has testified he approached Grant’s group and demanded their compliance based on the fact that a radio dispatch had identified a group fighting as being “black males” and wearing black clothing, which he later admitted better described a different group he passed by.
Patel held in her June, 2011 ruling that, “It is well-established law . . . that general appearance, including racial characteristics that reflect a significant portion of the population, is of little probative value absent a more particularized set of circumstances that would indicate the possibility the suspects are engaged in criminal activity.”
In what has since become a rallying event for opponents of police brutality, Grant was shot dead by BART Officer Johannes Mehserle while lying prone, face down, on the cement and his arms behind his back. The killing, recorded by train passengers with cell phone cameras, appeared as a police execution to a shocked public. Mehserle’s subsequent murder trial further enflamed controversy when he received what critics perceived as a light sentence of two years, with double credit for time already served. He was released on June 13, 2011.
Supporters, friends and family of the Oscar Grant and the plaintiffs are expected to pack the courtroom Monday.
Dan Siegel and Dean Royer of Siegel & Yee represent plaintiffs Jack Bryson, Jr., Nigel Bryson, Michael Greer, and Carlos Reyes in this suit. To schedule interviews, contact Christopher Scheer at (510) 735-7394 or scheer [at] siegelyee.com