Family members of Oscar Grant, the unarmed BART rider shot to death by a transit agency police officer early New Year's Day, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Monday that seeks $50 million from the agency, its chief of police and three officers.
John Burris, an attorney for the family, had asked for $25 million in a legal claim against BART after Officer Johannes Mehserle shot Grant on the platform of the Fruitvale Station in Oakland.
Grant, 22, of Hayward, and several other young men had been pulled off a Dublin-Pleasanton train by police investigating reports of a fight. He was face-down on the station platform when he was shot, an incident that several passengers recorded on cell-phone cameras.
Mehserle, 27, quit the BART force Jan. 7 and was subsequently charged with murder. His attorney said Mehserle had meant to fire his Taser when he fired a single shot with his pistol.
Burris said Monday that the actions by Mehserle and by BART Officer Tony Pirone, who first detained Grant and five of his friends in the aftermath of the fight, were "more egregious than I initially thought."
The lawsuit Burris filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland on the Grant family's behalf also named Pirone's partner, Marysol Domenici, and Police Chief Gary Gee. The attorney suggested that racism had played a role in Grant's detention and death, an accusation that a lawyer for BART said is not supported by evidence.
Burris wrote that an unidentified officer "directed a racial slur at one of the young men" after they were detained. Grant was African American, and the other detained men were black and Latino, Burris said in the suit.
Dale Allen, an attorney representing BART and the officers in civil court, said Monday that Grant's death was "a tragic accident," citing Mehserle's explanation about trying to fire his Taser.
"BART has been discussing mediation with Mr. Burris in an attempt to bring closure to the Grant family, and will continue to do so," Allen said.
Allen said evidence in the case will show that Grant and his friends "had been identified as having been involved in an altercation on the train" and that officers had properly detained them. He said racism was not a factor in the case and that officers had uttered "absolutely no racial slurs."
Burris said Pirone struck Grant without good reason minutes before Grant was shot, and that Domenici threatened to "tase" the young men in the face. Pirone's attorney, Bill Rapoport, has said Grant provoked Pirone's blow by trying to knee the officer in the groin.
Burris filed the lawsuit on behalf of Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson, as well as Sophina Mesa, who was Grant's girlfriend and is raising the couple's 4-year-old daughter.
BART spokesman Linton Johnson said Monday that a criminal investigation into the actions of Pirone and the other officers on the platform will soon be turned over to Alameda County prosecutors for a decision on possible charges.
"Attorney John Burris had asked for $25 million in an earlier legal claim. He now says the actions of BART police were "more egregious than I initially thought."