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Mehserle defense begins arguments with attacks on Grant’s character

(6/22) — 14:47 PDT — LOS ANGELES — A San Leandro Police Officer who chased Oscar Grant and ended up using a Taser on him after a traffic stop took the witness stand on the first day of testimony on behalf of former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot and killed Grant on a BART station platform January 1, 2009.

Detective Alex Hidas, an eight-year veteran of the San Leandro Police force, was conducting a traffic stop on a vehicle Grant was traveling in because the officer was temporarily blinded by its high-beam headlights.

Hidas told a Los Angeles jury Tuesday morning that when he observed Grant in the back seat with “contraband” in his waistband, he drew his weapon.

The “contraband” was a loaded gun tucked in Grant’s waistband — evidence not presented to the jury, as it was ruled inadmissible during a pre-trial hearing by Judge Robert Perry.

“I drew my firearm for my own safety and waited for backup to come,” Hidas testified. “[Grant] did not listen to my command, he opened he door and took off running.”

Hidas and another San Leandro officer chased Grant, eventually using a Taser to subdue him.

Under cross examination from Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Stein, Hidas said he had one day of training on Tasers. The prosecution argues that Mehserle, who had a similar amount of training on Tasers, was sufficiently trained to know the difference between his gun and his Taser.

Mehserle’s defense is using Hidas’s testimony to try to establish a history of Grant resisting arrest, setting the stage for testimony from several witnesses who will describe Grant’s actions before and during the shooting incident as uncooperative towards law enforcement officers.

One of those witnesses, BART passenger Agnes Zafiratos, was on the train Grant was riding when a fight broke out.

Zafiratos testified Tuesday morning that she feared for the safety of her husband and children after a skirmish involving Grant, his friends and a man identified as David Horowitz appeared to grow in size after the train they were on left Lake Merritt BART station.

“It was just chaos,” she said. “There were hands swinging.”

Zafiratos asked her husband Dennis to notify the train operator about the fight.

The couple were returning to their home in Castro Valley from a fireworks show in San Francisco that evening.