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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ex-Transit Police Officer Is Charged With Murder

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A former transit police officer has been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed and allegedly restrained black man in a racially charged case that has outraged residents and community leaders and set off violent protests.

Newly released court documents allege that Johannes Mehserle, who was charged Tuesday, shot Oscar Grant on New Year's Day while the 22-year-old had his hands behind his back and an officer was pressing his knee in the back of Grant's neck.

Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff made the rare decision to file a murder charge against a police officer for an on-duty incident. Mehserle, 27, resigned Jan. 7.

"At this point, what I feel the evidence indicates is an unlawful killing done by an intentional act, and from the evidence we have, there's nothing that would mitigate that to something lower than a murder," Orloff said at a news conference. He said he would not speculate on whether the charge would end up being first-degree or second-degree murder.

Witnesses said Grant was lying facedown on a train platform at a station in Oakland when Mehserle, who is white, shot him in the back. Grant and others had been pulled off a train after reports of fighting, as New Year's Eve revelers were shuttling home after midnight.

Allegations that Grant's hands were behind his back and that another officer was kneeling on him were contained in an Oakland police officer's request to issue an arrest warrant. It said it appeared from cellphone videos that "Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant while Grant was restrained and unarmed."

The shooting, captured on cellphone cameras and widely viewed on the Internet, has inflamed long-running tensions in Oakland between law enforcement authorities and many African American residents. Hundreds of people have taken to the streets calling for the prosecution of Mehserle, with one rally last week spiraling into violence that resulted in more than 100 arrests and damage to dozens of businesses.

UC Trims Freshman Enrollments

Saying they could not avoid a painful decision, the University of California regents voted to trim freshman enrollment for next fall by 2,300 students, or about 6 percent, as a response to reduced state funding during the worsening budget crisis. Under the plan, six of the nine UC undergraduate campuses will see significant cuts in their freshman classes in the fall. UC-Irvine and UC-San Diego, the hardest-hit, are slated for reductions of about 12 percent -- or 550 and 520 slots, respectively -- because they overenrolled students in recent years, officials said.

Nation's First Execution of Year

HUNTSVILLE, Tex.-- Curtis Moore, convicted of murdering three people during a night of robberies more than 13 years ago in Fort Worth, was put to death in the nation's first execution of the year. Moore, 40, was the first of six prisoners scheduled to die this month in Texas, the nation's most active death penalty state.

Slain Woman's Mom Sheds Light

EL RENO, Okla. -- A community college student who was strangled along with her four children had just broken off her relationship with the burly ex-convict accused in the slayings, the woman's mother said. Joshua Steven Durcho, 25, was arrested Tuesday night in Hamilton County, Tex., after his car hit a guardrail and a tree, Texas officials said. Prosecutors in Oklahoma charged Durcho with five counts of first-degree murder Tuesday, a day after an El Reno police officer conducting a welfare check found Summer Garas, 25, and her children dead in their apartment in the Oklahoma City suburb. The children were ages 3 to 7.

Subzero Chill Envelops Northeast

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- The cold wave that stunned the nation's midsection expanded into the Northeast on Wednesday with subzero temperatures and biting wind that kept even some winter-sports fans at home. The wind chill hit 33 below zero during the night at Massena, N.Y. The National Weather Service said Flint, Mich., set a record low at 19 degrees below zero.

Report: Schools More Segregated

ATLANTA -- Black and Latino students are being educated in increasingly segregated U.S. schools, said a report that undercuts optimism about race issues sparked by Barack Obama's presidential election win. Blacks and Hispanics are more isolated from white students than at any time since the civil rights movement, and many of the schools they attend are struggling, said the report by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles. Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project, said these trends were "the result of a systematic neglect of civil rights policy and related educational and community reforms for decades."

-- From News Services

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