Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced Monday that her office would reopen the Grant case at a time when Oakland, where the shooting occurred, and much of the country is engaged in an angry argument about the policing of minority communities.
O’Malley, who has enjoyed strong support from law enforcement in her election campaigns, did not outline in her statement the direction that the new investigation would take. The BART officer who pulled the trigger, Johannes Mehserle, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2010 and served less than a year in prison.
But Grant’s family for years has called for other BART officers to be held accountable for his killing, which still serves as a raw, unsettled moment in Oakland’s recent history. They asked again for justice as recently as Monday, before O’Malley officially reopened the case.
One officer who was fired but was never charged after the incident was Anthony Pirone, who was shown in video presented in court pulling Grant off the train with such force that some riders protested. Pirone also knelt on Grant’s neck, according to a cellphone video recording of the incident, and shouted racist profanity at him during the struggle.
Grant’s family has called for Pirone to be charged in the past and recently compared Grant’s death to that of George Floyd, the unarmed Black man who in May was filmed as a police officer knelt on his neck on a Minneapolis street corner, killing him.
On Monday, the Rev. Wanda Johnson, Grant’s mother, said that “Oscar was denied full justice.” She spoke at Oakland’s Fruitvale Station, where Grant was killed and which was the name of the award-winning 2013 film based on the event.
Johnson repeated her call for Pirone to be charged, saying that he “escalated — instead of de-escalating the situation — and caused the loss of my son’s life.”
O’Malley, the district attorney, does not face reelection until 2022.
But the politics around police behavior have shifted nationwide since Floyd’s recent death, giving energy and evidence to those demanding changes in the way law enforcement agencies engage minority communities.
Grant’s name is one of many that have been painted on Oakland’s urban landscape during a summer of marches in support of change to the justice system, including calls to cut funds from the police department. Floyd’s name has joined Grant’s on those walls.
The Oakland City Council made a modest reduction to the police budget in the weeks following Floyd’s killing. But it stopped short of making a second round of cuts, angering many of the city’s civil rights activists, some of whom have been working on policing issues since Grant’s shooting.
O’Malley’s opponent in the 2018 election, Pamela Price, vowed to prosecute police officers involved in civilian shootings more aggressively. The issue of police behavior and funding is central in this year’s races for five of Oakland’s nine City Council seats, including one that represents the Fruitvale Station neighborhood.