A federal jury may have a chance to re-examine the much-publicized 2009 fatal shooting of Oscar Grant III and the arrests of five of his friends at an Oakland BART station, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

In a unanimous three-judge decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected attempts by the BART officers to shield themselves from the legal claims by asserting police immunity, including former BART officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot Grant during the fracas. The 9th Circuit decision allows the civil rights lawsuit to proceed to a trial.

"It is possible, after weighing all the facts, that the officers committed no constitutional wrongs," 9th Circuit Judge Mary Murguia wrote. "But our task at this stage ... is instead to construe the facts in the manner most favorable to the plaintiffs, who have a right to their day in court."

Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant, poses for a photograph in Hayward on June 6, 2013.
Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant, poses for a photograph in Hayward on June 6, 2013. (Anda Chu/Staff file)

Grant's father and five of Grant's friends sued in the aftermath of the incident, highlighted in the recently released movie "Fruitvale Station." The complaint alleges that Mehserle should pay damages for Grant's death, and that the three officers violated the civil rights of Grant's friends when they were arrested early on New Year's Day at the Fruitvale station in Oakland.

The 22-year-old Grant was fatally shot by Mehserle, who was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter in a 2010 trial that was moved to Los Angeles because of the extensive publicity. Mehserle claimed he mistakenly shot Grant in the belief he had drawn a Taser instead of his gun at the BART station.


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Lawyers for the other two officers maintain they acted reasonably in their response to reports of fighting in the BART station, and should not face the civil rights allegations.

Michael Rains, Mehserle's lawyer, said Tuesday that he was not surprised by the court's decision and is prepared to defend the case if it reaches a trial. "This certainly opens the door to a trial," he added.

Grant's father, however, says in the lawsuit that the shooting was intentional, and that Mehserle should be held liable for depriving him of his son's life. Grant's friends argue, among other claims, that they were targeted and mistreated based on racial profiling.

The 9th Circuit concluded that the officers were not entitled to legal immunity against many of the legal claims, meaning the case can proceed to a trial. A federal judge previously found that BART could not be sued as an institution, removing the agency as a defendant in the case.

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Read the 9th U.S. Circuit Court ruling permitting a civil rights lawsuit against officers involved in the shooting death of Oscar Grant and the arrests of his friends at www.mercurynews.com/crime-courts.