Lawsuits against BART police officers involved in the incident that left Oscar Grant shot to death in 2009 can now go forward after a federal appeals court in San Francisco declined Tuesday to grant the officers immunity as law enforcement agents.
The court’s ruling cleared the way for a trial on two civil rights lawsuits filed against former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle and other officers by the father of Oscar Grant III and five of Grant's friends.
The 22-year-old Grant was fatally shot by Mehserle, who said he accidentally drew his revolver instead of his Taser stun gun, at BART's Fruitvale Station in Oakland, Calif., early on New Year's Day in 2009 as Mehserle and other officers responded to reports of a fight on a train.
Mehserle was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison.
The two lawsuits were filed by Grant's father, Oscar Grant Jr., and five companions who were handcuffed and detained by officers for several hours but never charged with crimes.
The father claimed the fatal shooting of his son denied him the right of familial association, while the five friends alleged the officers used excessive force.
The lawsuits - which name six current and former BART officers, including Mehserle and ex-Police Chief Gary Gee - have been on hold for two years while attorneys for the defendants sought to throw out some claims. BART settled suits brought by Grant's mother and daughter, agreeing to pay them $1.3 million and $1.5 million, respectively.
The appeals court panel said Tuesday that many of the complaints raised in the lawsuits needed to be sorted out by a jury. In doing so, the panel mostly affirmed rulings by a lower-court judge.
The appeals court declined to dismiss Grant's father's claim that Mehserle deprived him of his relationship with his son. The panel rejected an argument by Mehserle's attorney that the father, Oscar Grant Jr., who is in prison for murder, was not close enough to his 22-year-old son to make the claim.