LOS ANGELES, November 5, 2010 (AFP) – A former San Francisco area transit police officer was jailed for two years on Friday over the shooting of an unarmed black man, an incident that triggered race riots last year.
Johannes Mehserle, 28, was found guilty in July over the shooting of Oscar Grant, 22, on New Year’s Day 2009 in the northern California city of Oakland. For sentencing the trial was moved to Los Angeles due to the racial tensions.
He could have been jailed for up to 14 years, but Judge Robert J. Perry at LA Superior Court took into account the 292 days he has already spent behind bars, in passing the two-year jail term.
Dozens of demonstrators had gathered outside the court ahead of the sentencing, voicing concern that it would be too lenient.
A Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer, Mehserle was responding to reports of fighting on the subway when he shot and killed Grant. He said he had intended to use his Taser on Grant, but mistakenly pulled out his gun.
The lethal shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer was captured on video and widely broadcast on television and on the Internet and led to violent protests in the Oakland area.
Following the 2009 shooting, residents blocked streets and smashed store windows, then bashed a police cruiser and about two dozen other cars.
The incident drew comparisons to the 1992 case of Rodney King, a black man beaten by Los Angeles police officers. The beating was videotaped and led to street riots.