Former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle, charged with murder in the fatal New Year’s Day shooting of an unarmed rider in Oakland, has hired a prominent defense attorney to represent him.
By hiring Michael Rains and his Pleasant Hill law firm, Mehserle turned to one of the best-known defenders of Bay Area police officers suspected of misconduct. Rains is frequently quoted as a legal expert by media outlets, including The Chronicle, and provided commentary on Mehserle’s case until he was hired.
Among those Rains has represented was one of three former Oakland police officers, known as the Riders, who were tried twice after being accused of crimes including fabricating evidence against suspects. Jurors acquitted the officers of some charges and deadlocked on others, resulting in mistrials.
Rains is also representing Barry Bonds in the former baseball slugger’s perjury case, in which federal prosecutors have accused the ex-Giants outfielder of lying to a grand jury about whether he knowingly used steroids. That trial is scheduled to begin in March.
Rains made a brief appearance Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court in Mehserle’s case. Also in court was Christopher Miller, who had been representing Mehserle. Miller is a partner at a Sacramento law firm more known for work in labor and employment law and on workers’ compensation cases.
Mehserle did not appear in court with the attorneys, who scheduled a Jan. 30 hearing in front of Judge Morris Jacobson. The judge must decide whether to grant bail to Mehserle and allow the 27-year-old former officer the opportunity to leave Santa Rita Jail in Dublin before trial.
Mehserle’s defense is being paid for by a statewide fund for police officers. The BART police union pays into the fund.
Rains did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Mehserle was charged with murder by District Attorney Tom Orloff, who said Mehserle had committed an intentional, unlawful act when he shot 22-year-old Oscar Grant to death at BART’s Fruitvale Station. Mehserle and other BART officers had pulled Grant and several friends from a train about 2 a.m. while investigating reports of an onboard fight.
Grant put up a brief struggle, but was lying facedown, with both hands behind his back, when Mehserle shot him, Oakland police investigators said.
Mehserle has not offered a public explanation for the shooting and has declined to talk to criminal investigators. He quit the BART police force Jan. 7 after two years on the job rather than be interviewed by internal affairs inspectors who could have brought a disciplinary case against him.