The BART police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man on an Oakland train platform and then refused to explain his actions to investigators was arrested Tuesday in Nevada on suspicion of murder, authorities said.
Johannes Mehserle, 27, of Lafayette was taken into custody in Douglas County, Nev., said Deputy Steve Velez of the Douglas County sheriff's office. The arrest was also confirmed by David Chai, chief of staff to Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums.
Mehserle was arrested in the New Year's Day shooting of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old supermarket worker from Hayward who was lying facedown after being pulled off a BART train by police investigating a fight. An Alameda County judge signed an arrest warrant alleging murder, and Mehserle surrendered without incident, authorities said.
The shooting, which was recorded by passengers in videos widely circulated on the Internet and television, prompted public outrage, and some viewers said that the shooting appeared to be an execution.
Sources said Mehserle was in Nevada because he feared for his safety after death threats were made against him. Douglas County is 15 miles south of Carson City in northwestern Nevada and includes part of Lake Tahoe.
Mehserle's attorney, Christopher W. Miller of Sacramento, confirmed early today that his client was arrested on suspicion of murder. He said he would not comment further until a news conference today.
Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff was expected to announce details of the arrest today. He could not be reached late Tuesday.
Authorities have been under immense pressure to take action in the case. On Tuesday, BART board President Thomas Blalock and board Director Carole Ward Allen sent a letter to Orloff, urging the district attorney to move expeditiously to complete the investigation and file charges if warranted.
Some Oakland community leaders and civil rights activists said the case is symbolic of larger problems with police officers using excessive force on young black men. Grant was black and Mehserle is white.
The arrest came on the eve of a protest scheduled for 4 p.m. today outside Oakland City Hall, the latest in a series of demonstrations in which BART has been accused of mishandling the investigation.
BART police on Monday turned over the results of their preliminary investigation to Orloff's office. A separate investigation by Oakland police was launched last week, and Mehserle's arrest was related to that probe, sources said. The state attorney general is also monitoring the case.
BART officers had detained Grant and several other passengers at about 2 a.m. Jan. 1 as they investigated a fight aboard a train from San Francisco. Passengers with cellular phone cameras captured footage that shows Grant lying facedown when he was shot.
In the videos, Mehserle appears to be trying to put cuffs on Grant, and Grant appears to be struggling, when Mehserle suddenly pulls his service weapon from his holster and fires one shot into Grant's back.
Mehserle declined to speak to BART criminal investigators after the shooting. Then last Wednesday he resigned rather than answer questions from BART's internal affairs division.
His departure came the same day Grant was buried and a peaceful protest at the Fruitvale BART Station erupted into violence in downtown Oakland. Demonstrators set cars on fire and broke windows at dozens of businesses. By night's end, police had arrested 105 people.
Grant's family has filed a $25 million legal claim against BART, signaling an intention to sue for damages. The family's attorney, John Burris, said late Tuesday that he was pleased to hear of Mehserle's arrest.
"If it's true, the family is delighted, and it will really help with the healing process," Burris said. "This is also very important for the community. This had to occur; it was almost a no-brainer. I think the district attorney ought to be commended for moving (the case) expeditiously."
Image by Capt. Tim via FlickrFrom the San Francisco Chronicle: