One of the videos made by riders at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland early New Year’s Day caught Officer Tony Pirone standing over the prone Grant and yelling, “Bitch-ass n-.”
Pirone and his attorney say he was parroting an epithet that Grant first hurled at him – though Grant’s voice is not audible on the tape.
The sound-enhanced tape shows Pirone delivering a shoulder chop to Grant and bringing him to the ground. Pirone can be heard saying twice, “Bitch-ass n-, right?”
Prosecutors showed the tape in court on the last day of Mehserle’s preliminary hearing, but the headlines went to the judge’s decree hours later that there was enough evidence to send Mehserle to trial for murder.
Under questioning from Mehserle’s attorney Michael Rains, Pirone insisted it was Grant who had first “called me a bitch-ass n-.”
Asked if he had repeated the slur to Grant, Pirone testified: “I don’t remember, but it very well may have happened.”
“Is that something you would have initiated on your own, calling him names?” Rains asked.
“No, I don’t talk like that,” Pirone said.
Oakland attorney John Burris, who is representing Grant’s family in a lawsuit against BART, called Pirone’s words “shocking and disturbing.”
“Pirone was out of control,” Burris said, “assaulting Oscar Grant and taunting him with racial slurs, and none of the other officers seemed to put him in check.”
Pirone’s attorney, William Rapoport, dismissed Burris’ assertion – reiterating that Pirone, who is white, was simply reacting in surprise to being called the “N” word himself.
Mehserle, who is white, was not accused by prosecutors or Grant’s family of a racial motive in the shooting of Grant, a 22-year-old African American whom BART officers pulled off a train after receiving reports of an onboard fight.
A spokesman for the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training in Sacramento declined to weigh in on whether Pirone’s comments would be cause for discipline or even firing, citing an internal BART probe of the shooting.
Peter Keane, a Golden Gate University law professor and former San Francisco police commissioner, said that determining whether Pirone’s comments were grounds for discipline depends on whether he was intending to use a racial epithet or just echoing Grant in a “sense of incredulity.”
But without Grant’s voice on the tape, Keane said, “the burden of proof moves heavily to Pirone.”
The race is on: State Attorney General Jerry Brown bests San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom by 20 points in a new, two-way poll for next year’s Democratic gubernatorial contest.
The poll by JMM Research of 525 Democratic and decline-to-state voters is the first snapshot since Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced last week that he wasn’t running.
With Villaraigosa in the lineup, the numbers read:
— Brown, 33 percent.
— Newsom, 20 percent.
— Villaraigosa, 17 percent.
Take the L.A. mayor out, and it’s:
— Brown, 46 percent.
— Newsom, 26 percent.
Brown does best with the voters over 40, who tend to turn out in bigger numbers on election day. Newsom thrives with the younger crowd, which he hopes to turn out big time, a la Barack Obama.
Geographically, Brown beats Newsom everywhere but the Bay Area.
Whichever candidate they support, the one thing Democrats overwhelmingly agree on is the sad state of the state, with 73 percent saying California is headed in the wrong direction.
Budget bingo: Publicly, San Francisco’s budget battle is being pitched as a fight with Mayor Gavin Newsom, cops and firefighters on one side, and the Board of Supervisors and advocates of social programs on the other.
But behind the scenes, the fight is also between two major labor groups: the Service Employees International Union, which represents most of the city’s health and social workers, and the police and fire unions.
Service worker unions have helped elect a number of the supervisors. The police and firefighter unions are big backers of the mayor, and opposed many of the supervisors.
The first round went to the service workers when the supervisors voted to cut $82.9 million from the police, fire and sheriff’s departments and use it for health and social services.
But now, it’s dawning on everyone that the city will probably need even more money to keep everyone happy, which means going to the ballot in November with some kind of tax hike. And any kind of tax hike is going to need police and firefighter support to pass.
Which may explain why the service and firefighters unions have been meeting on the QT in the hopes of working out a compromise.
And if they do – City Hall will follow.
Banmiller bows: After taking a good, hard look at the numbers, business newscaster Brian Banmiller has decided to stay out of the race to replace outgoing East Bay Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher.
“They weren’t kidding around when they redistricted the 10th,” the Republican said of the district, which includes portions of Solano and Contra Costa counties. “They said they were going to make it safe for Democrats, and it is.”
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