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Mehserle verdict won’t affect Richmond, police say

on June 30, 2010

Former BART Police Office Johannes Mehserle’s Los Angeles murder trial is wrapping up this week, with closing arguments scheduled for Thursday. But between the appearance earlier this week of a rash of vengeful-sounding graffiti around Oakland’s Lake Merritt and a host of inflammatory reports circulating both on television and online suggesting that violent riots might erupt should Mehserle, who is white, beat the second-degree murder charge he faces for killing an unarmed black train rider last New Year’s Day, there appears to be a growing sense of anxiety around the Bay Area over what, if anything, may happen once the ex-cop’s verdict’s been read.

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, along with Police Chief Anthony Batts, together issued a statement last weekend that, while urging city residents to remain calm once the verdict comes in, seemed to imply the likelihood of violence.  “Come together, look out for one another, and stay safe,” their statement read. City officials there also advised residents to park their cars in secure locations, remove large trash bins and report vandalism or destruction once a verdict is announced, according to an Associated Press article earlier this week. Oakland Police have also been preparing for a riot, news reports say.

In Richmond, which is at the end of the north-western BART line, Police Chief Chris Magnus said he doesn’t expect any Mehserle-related violence to erupt.

“We are not anticipating any problems here in Richmond,” Magnus wrote in an e-mail to Richmond Confidential, “although we have contingency plans should any situations develop that might jeopardize public safety. We are working closely with other police agencies here in Contra Costa County and also in Alameda County.”

Magnus also said that the Richmond Police Department was already planning to have extra officers on duty this weekend because of the busy Independence Day holiday, not necessarily in anticipation of protests or a riot. The department already patrols around the MacDonald Avenue BART station, and Magnus said it was unlikely they’d change their approach there this weekend.

Magnus declined to speak more specifically about the department’s contingency plans, citing confidential operating orders.

Mehserle is facing a second-degree murder charge for killing 22-year-old Oscar Grant on the Fruitvale BART station platform in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009 following a fight on board the train. The shooting was captured on cell-phone video and has been widely seen over the Internet. Mehserle has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys have argued that the ex-officer intended to use his taser to subdue Grant, but mistakenly drew his gun.

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