SAN FRANCISCO — The lawyer for a BART officer who struck an unarmed man who was later killed by another officer said his client was provoked into using force.
BART police Officer Tony Pirone was identified as hitting Oscar Grant III in the head shortly before Grant was fatally shot early Jan. 1. His attorney, Bill Rapoport, said Grant provoked Pirone's blow by trying to knee Pirone at least twice.
Rapoport said he does not think his client will be charged. The attorney hired analysts to break down cell-phone video showing Pirone striking Grant. He determined that Pirone used "reasonable force" by using his forearm — not fist — when striking Grant.
"Mr. Pirone has nothing to hide because he didn't do anything wrong. He acted properly within procedure during an out-of-control situation with out-of-control people," Rapoport said Saturday.
John Burris, the attorney for Grant's family, said Rapoport's assertion was "bogus," and said Pirone's unprovoked actions led to Grant's killing.
Last week, BART announced that it is turning over its internal investigation of the incidents to an independent third party.
Meanwhile, former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle remains in jail on $3 million bail after pleading not guilty to the 22-year-old Grant's killing. The shooting — fueled by cell-phone video of the incident — has caused community outrage leading to protests and arrests.
Rapoport said Pirone, a BART officer for four years, is now on paid leave. Pirone's name surfaced last week after another cell-phone video surfaced, showing an officer hitting Grant as he stood against a wall on the Fruitvale station platform in Oakland.
Rapoport said Pirone was the first officer at the station that night after 911 reports of a fight on a BART train. Pirone stopped Grant and four others who matched a police dispatcher's description. Pirone ordered the group to the wall where his partner, Officer Marysol Domenici, was waiting, Rapoport said.
Grant and another man tried to re-board the train, causing Pirone to point his stun gun at Grant through an open train door, Rapoport said. Pirone escorted Grant to the wall and returned to the train, pulling a fifth man out, Rapoport said.
Pirone was handcuffing that fifth man, Rapoport said, when he heard shouting near his partner and saw three men, including Grant, approach her as she tried to calm them down. That's when Pirone hit Grant.
"Oscar Grant was the aggressor and that aggression needed to be stopped and with the least amount of force," Rapoport said. "My client stopped Grant from striking Marysol and continuing to strike him."
Other officers, including Mehserle, soon arrived. Pirone told them that Grant and another man were under arrest for resisting and obstructing an officer, Rapoport said. The lawyer added that Grant was still confrontational and stood up when Pirone pulled him down.
Moments later, Mehserle fatally shot Grant. According to Mehserle's attorney, Pirone stated that Mehserle said "I'm going to tase him, I'm going to tase him," before firing his gun.
Mehserle's attorney has argued in court that his client thought he was using his stun gun, not his firearm.
Grant family attorney Burris, who has filed a $25 million claim against BART, said Sunday that Pirone also should be prosecuted.
"Pirone overreacted. It was an unprovoked attack," Burris said. "He should be prosecuted for his over-aggressiveness by hitting Mr. Grant and holding him down, which led to the shooting. Verbal statements by Mr. Grant or anyone else doesn't justify the use of physical force."