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Ex-officer convicted in California train killing

Associated Press | 7/13/2010, 8:21 p.m.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Violent protests erupted in Oakland with stores damaged and dozens arrested after a Los Angeles jury convicted a white former transit officer of involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man.

Prosecutors had wanted Johannes Mehserle convicted of murdering Oscar Grant. So last Thursday’s lesser verdict raised concerns of a repeat of the rioting that followed the shooting on New Year’s Day in 2009 on an Oakland train platform. The trial was moved to Los Angeles following the riots.

Police in riot gear last week  maintained a watchful eye over a crowd of protesters as emotions ran high with about 500 people marching in the street. Members of a crowd near City Hall moaned and cursed when they heard the verdict.

Sporadic violence later broke out and police said they made 83 arrests throughout the night for violations that included failure to disperse, vandalism and assaulting a police officer.

At least a dozen businesses were damaged, including a looted Foot Locker store and a ransacked jewelry store, police said. Protesters also smashed the windows of a bank, set fires in several trash bins and detonated a small incendiary device near a police station that caused no damage.

“This city is not the wild, wild west,” said Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts. “This city will not tolerate this sort of activity.”

Though police did not release a damage estimate, the protesting appeared to be much less severe than the rioting that hit Oakland after Grant was shot.

Even though the protests wound down late last Thursday, Batts expected the number of arrests to double overnight.

During the trial, prosecutors said the 28-year-old Mehserle became angry at the 22-year-old Grant for resisting arrest. He was shot in the back while he lay face-down. Mehserle claims he mistakenly drew his gun instead of his Taser.

The jury had a choice between second-degree murder and lesser charges of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. The jury found that Mehserle didn’t mean to kill Grant, but that his behavior was still so negligent that it was criminal. Involuntary manslaughter convictions carry a sentence of two to four years.

During the trial, Wanda Johnson sat most days in the second row of a Los Angeles courtroom less than 30 feet from the man who killed her son. She hoped and prayed the justice system wouldn’t fail her.

After the jury’s finding, Johnson denounced the verdict and let loose emotions that had been mostly bottled up during the three-week trial.

“My son was murdered! He was murdered! He was murdered,” she said outside the courthouse.

As Mehserle was placed in handcuffs and taken away, he turned to his family and mouthed, “I love you guys.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement urging Californians to remain calm and not resort to violence. Schwarzenegger said he had informed Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums said the state was well prepared to assist in maintaining order.

The finding on use of a gun allegation could be used to add as much as 10 years to a prison sentence. The next hearing was set for Aug. 6.