Writings By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor On The Death And Aftermath Of The Young Hayward Father Shot And Killed On New Years Day, 2009 By An Officer Of The Bay Area Rapid Transit District


Johannes Mehserle and Oscar Grant III


While Many Grant Protest Charges Dropped, Some Felony Charges Go Forward

From the Berkeley Daily Planet
February 12, 2009

A volunteer attorney with the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild says that while charges have been dropped for many of the individuals arrested in recent Oakland protests over the shooting death of Hayward resident Oscar Grant by a BART patrol officers, the Alameda County District Attorney’s office is moving forward with between six or seven cases, at least three of them felonies.

Attorney John Viola, who operates a San Francisco law practice, spoke by telephone this week after two “mass arraignment” days for Oscar Grant protesters were held in Alameda County Superior Court last Friday and the following Monday. Viola said he believes at least two more mass arraignment days have been scheduled within the next several days.

“The overwhelming majority have been discharged, but the legal landscape is still solidifying, and we’re still waiting for the dust to clear on who will actually be charged,” Viola said.
The District Attorneys office itself has been less than helpful itself in giving out information to the media about the status of the cases. A reporter asking at the District Attorney’s office about the Oscar Grant cases on the afternoon of February 6, the day that many of the cases were dropped at the morning arraignment, was only told that “we don’t have a lot of information on the cases; only a few people showed up today.”

Viola said he believes something in the neighborhood of 130 people have been arrested in Oakland Oscar Grant protests, including arrests made following protest marches on January 7th and 14th, a January protest walkout at several high schools, and following the January 30 bail hearing for Johannes Mehserle, the former BART officer who has been charged with murder in Grant’s New Year’s Day shooting death. He said that about 70 of those cases were arraigned on February 6th and 9th, with most of those charges being dropped.

National Lawyers Guild Bay Area Chapter Executive Director Carlos Villarreal said that while the District Attorney's office has a year to file the charges, "typically when they don't charge on the first day's hearing, they don't come back and dig it up. So we're cautiously optimistic, but we'll still monitor the cases." He said that even though the DA is not moving forward with many of the charges, some of the individuals whose cases have been dropped are complaining that authorities "still have their cellphones or their cameras," many of which were confiscated by police during the various demonstrations. Villarreal said that approximately 8 attorneys are actively working on the Oscar Grant protest cases, that "others have indicated they will help if the charges stick and go to court," and that his office is actively consulting with other NLG attorney members as well.

While the next major day of Oscar Grant arraignments in Alameda County Superior Court is scheduled for February 17, where some of the individuals arrested in the student walkout are expected to appear, Villarreal said that none of the future arraignment dates are expected to have as large a number of potential cases as those on the 6th and the 9th.

Meanwhile, Viola said that “probably one of the most serious cases still being charged” is that of Cleveland Valrey Jr., the San Francisco Bay View newspaper reporter and KPFA radio show host who goes by the name JR, who has been accused of setting fire to a trash can during the night of downtown Oakland vandalism following the January 7th protest march. The District Attorney’s office has charged Valrey with violation of California Penal Code Section 451, felony arson, which carries a possible sentence of between 16 months and three years in state prison, and is a strike under the state’s “three strikes” law.

“It’s an incredibly serious charge for someone expressing outrage at a time when they should have been outraged,” Viola said, adding that “the people who really should be held accountable” are the BART officers whose actions led to Oscar Grant’s New Years Day death. The attorney said that Valrey was innocent of the charges, and that anyone actually guilty of the act for which he is being accused—setting fire to a trash can—should have been charged only with felony vandalism at the most, a lesser offense. Valrey was present in downtown Oakland during the January 7th protest and vandalism, but has said he was there only in his capacity as a reporter, and that his camera was confiscated by Oakland police officers.

Safero Home | Writing Pages | Oscar Grant Pages