Taser Trainer Testifies in Transit Trial

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A former transit police officer with California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system is standing trial, accused of having shot and killed an unarmed rider last year.

Johannes Mehserle, 28, says that he shot Oscar Grant III by mistake, having grabbed his pistol instead of his Taser electric stun gun. Grant, 26, was part of a group of riders who were detained after a January 1, 2009 fight on a BART train. He was lying down, being restrained by officers, when he was shot in the back by Mehserle.

Tasers are hand-held, gun-shaped devices that fire electrodes which cause muscle spasms in their targets. They are used by law enforcement officers to temporarily disable a suspect for purposes of restraint.

During the trial, which is taking place in Los Angeles because of pre-trial publicity in the Bay Area, a witness testified that then-Officer Mehserle received the minimum amount of training in use of the Taser. Officer Stewart Lehman, who conducted the Taser training for the BART police, told the jury that Mehserle took the state-mandated six hours of training, and that he also had a couple of hours of hands-on experience.

Because cartridges for the Taser are costly, however, the department restricted the number of times the device could be discharged during training exercises, and that not every officer in the BART force was able to use a Taser in training.

Lehman also testified that Mehserle was shown four positions on his belt and leg that were approved for carrying the Taser specifically to avoid confusion with his gun. Mehserle used the method of placing his Taser on the left side of his belt, so he could use a cross-over draw when he needed to access it.

Prosectuors asked Lehman, who had been called by the defense, to demonstrate that drawing a Taser is different from drawing a handgun. He also said under oath that when using the device, an officer is required to alert colleagues by saying “Taser, Taser, Taser.”

Additionally, Mehserle’s partner, Jon Woffinden, testified that the defendant never mentioned to him that he had shot Grant accidentally.

 

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