OAKLAND -- Five men who were handcuffed and detained for several hours the night Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a former BART police officer on a train platform will split $175,000 under a federal civil rights settlement approved earlier this month.
The suit, filed in October 2009, claims excessive force was used against Jack Bryson Jr., Nigel Bryson, Michael Greer, Carlos Reyes and Fernando Anicete Jr., who were on a BART train riding back to the East Bay after celebrating New Year's Eve in San Francisco on Jan. 1, 2009. A brief but hectic fight started on a packed train car, and BART police were dispatched to meet the train at the Fruitvale station and stop the brawl.
Former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle and a group of several other BART officers went to the station and rounded up the five men and Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Hayward resident. All six men were detained on the platform as police attempted to figure out the situation.
Amid the chaos and in front of several recording cellphone cameras, Mehserle shot Grant in the back. Grant was unarmed and laying facedown on the platform when he was fatally wounded.
The suit claims two men, Greer and Anicete, were thrown to the ground by police and Anicete was tackled by an officer who believed he had tossed a cellphone.
"The detention was unlawful and some degree of force was used and they were taken into custody and handcuffed and they had not committed any crimes," said attorney John Burris, who represented the men. "Their situation was that they were illegally detained at the outset and they should have been released once it was clear to the train operator that she could not identify anyone who had participated in the fight."
BART claims the men were detained but Burris argued they were arrested. "Instead of being witnesses, they were all handcuffed and held for four or five hours," he said.
The $175,000 will be split among the men, Burris said. Burris is also responsible for winning $1.3 million on behalf of Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson, and $1.5 million for Grant's young daughter, Tatiana. A jury trial for another civil rights lawsuit filed by Grant's father, Oscar Grant Sr., is expected to start in June.
Burris said the men are happy the suit is over.
"It's been a long ordeal for them. They are still dealing with the loss of Oscar and the circumstance that occurred but they do want to put the events surrounding Oscar's death behind them," Burris said.
The BART Board approved the settlement on May 8, closing the case for a "considerably smaller amount compared to what would have been a long and costly trial if allowed to move forward," said BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost.
Trost said BART now wants to move forward with a focus on reforming its police force.
An audit last year showed progress with implementing the 55 recommendations that the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives made three years ago after a comprehensive review of the BART police department, she added.
Mehserle, then 27, was charged with murder in Grant's death; he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, sentenced to two years in jail and released after 11 months. Mehserle testified that he was actually trying to subdue Grant with a Taser when he accidentally shot him.
Protests days after the shooting were initially peaceful, but grew violent as nighttime fell. Sporadic looting was reported after Mehserle's conviction. The shooting and the last day of Grant's life were dramatized in the 2013 film "Fruitvale Station."
Follow Kristin J. Bender at Twitter.com/kjbender.