Johannes Mehserle Could Be Out of Jail in June

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(From New America Media)

By Thandisizwe Chimurenga

Los Angeles – Rumors have swirled recently over whether Johannes Mehserle, the former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer convicted last summer of involuntary manslaughter in the death of an unarmed Oscar Grant, had already been released from prison. Those rumors have turned out to be false. Mehserle, however, may walk out of prison some time in June.

Mehserle was sentenced to two years in state prison by Judge Robert Perry on Nov. 5, 2010. Oscar Grant was fatally shot in the back by Mehserle, and the events were captured by videos and cell phone cameras and widely disseminated.

At the time of sentencing, Judge Perry calculated that Mehserle had a total of 292 days in custody based on “good-time credits.” According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation website (CDCR), “… for every six months of continuous incarceration from the date of sentencing to the CDCR, an eligible inmate shall be awarded six months reduction in term of imprisonment (1 day credit for every day served).”

Although Perry sentenced Mehserle to state prison, Mehserle has earned his credits in the Los Angeles County Jail where he has been held since the jury reached its verdict of involuntary manslaughter.

“He was arrested on Jan. 13, 2009. He stayed in custody until being released on bail on Feb. 6, 2009. He was remanded following the guilty verdict on July 8, and he has remained in custody until now. I calculate that he has 146 actual days in custody, and he is entitled to a like amount, 146, for good-time credits for a total of 292,” said Perry at the sentencing.

Based on these calculations, many people thought Mehserle had already been released.

Yobie Benjamin, who blogs for the San Francisco Chronicle’s “City Brights Blog,” wrote last November that Mehserle would be “free in 72 days.” That would have put Mehserle back on the streets around January of this year. Rose Mesa, grandmother of Oscar Grant’s daughter Tatiana, stated on a Facebook memorial page for Grant that Mehserle had been released in February.

Mehserle is currently listed on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) website, under the section titled Inmate Information Center, as being in the Men’s Central Jail. Steve Witmer, spokesperson for the LASD, stated that Mehserle is in their custody as a “keep away,” where he’s being held in isolation from other prisoners due to his status.

The sheriff’s website also lists a June 1, 2011 court date at 8:30 a.m. before Judge Perry at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Courts Building. It is possible that Perry will release Mehserle at that time, yet according to an assistant for Michael Rains, Mehserle’s attorney, the June 1 court date is not confirmed.

Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant, and Cephus Johnson, Grant’s uncle, both said they were under the impression CDCR would notify them when Mehserle would be released. However, John Burris, attorney for the Grant family, said that the department of corrections was not legally bound to notify the family. Burris is representing the family in its  $50 million lawsuit against BART, Mehserle and other officers.

Nevertheless, activists are gearing up in both Los Angeles and Oakland in preparation for Mehserle’s impending release.

Keith Muhammad, a minister with the Nation of Islam in Oakland, said continued demonstrations were necessary due to “the unholy relationship between law enforcement and the courts that have only produced one charge and one conviction of any cop in the history of California for an on-duty killing.”

“Justice has not been served,” he said. “Justice has been compromised.”

“Since we don’t know exactly when he will be released, we will begin mobilizing now and the Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant will be prepared to take action on the day that this murderer is released back onto our streets,” said Cat Brooks, co-chair of the Onyx Organizing Committee, one of several organizations involved in the coalition.

In Los Angeles, activists will gather June 1, at the L.A. County Superior Court at 8:30 a.m., to protest Mehserle’s release and continue to press for justice for Oscar Grant, including the filing of federal Civil Rights charges against Mehserle.

The San Francisco office of the Justice Department opened an investigation into the case last summer but has not yet released any findings or made any statements on the case.

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