Bay Area Transit Officer Johannes Mehserle Convicted Of Involuntary Manslaughter

[Updated at 5:46 p.m.]: Oakland police in riot gear faced off against protesters in the Bay Area city early Thursday evening following an involuntary manslaughter guilty verdict for former Bay Area Transit Officer Johannes Mehserle, who was tried in Los Angeles. Supporters and member's of the victim's family expressed disappointment that the verdict represented a downgrade from the second-degree murder charge faced by the suspect.

Mehserle, who's white, can be seen on video shooting an African-American suspect in the back on an Oakland subway station platform, inspiring outrage among some in Oakland who feel the attack was racially motivated. The officer has said that he meant to reach for his stun gun but came up with his service gun in the heat of the moment.

The trial was moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles as a result of fears that jury pools up north might be tainted by intense media coverage and inflamed emotions surrounding the case.

The 28-year-old officer was charged with second-degree murder for the shooting death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. The confrontation happened on New Year's Day 2009 as several officers worked to subdue the suspect on an Oakland BART platform.

"We are extremely disappointed with this verdict," John Burris, attorney for the Grant family, told reporters downtown. " ... This is not an involuntary manslaughter case."

The verdict could reportedly bring the officer a sentence of two to four years behind bars.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement urging calm in Oakland following the decision.

"I encourage Californians to remain calm in light of the verdict and not to resort to violence,'' Schwarzenegger said. "I have spoken to Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and have assured him we are well prepared to assist in maintaining order.''

Crowds near 14th Street and Broadway in Oakland surrounded an unmarked police car about 5:35 p.m. and some in the pack threw items at the vehicle before it drove off.

Authorities in Oakland were on alert as a result of Thursday's verdict. The Bay Area's ABC affiliate reported that some workers in Oakland were told to go home early. Some business operators boarded up their windows, too, according to the station.

-With reporting from City News Service. Got news? Email us.

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