With jury deliberations set to resume Tuesday in the trial of a white transit police officer accused of killing an unarmed black man in Oakland, California, police in Oakland and Los Angeles were bracing for demonstrations in the racially-charged case.
The victim, Oscar Grant, 22, was among a group of revelers returning from San Francisco on New Year's night 2009 who were involved in a fight on a BART train. A fight broke out after Grant and members of his group were pulled off the train at Oakland's Fruitvale station. Grant was on his stomach when former transit cop Johannes Mehserle pulled out his gun and shot him in the back.
A jury in Los Angeles, where the trial was moved because of extensive media coverage, will decide whether Mehserle, 28, should be sent to prison. Legal experts called the case the most racially polarizing trial in the state since four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted in 1992 in the famed Rodney King beating.
Mehserle was charged with first-degree murder in the killing, but a judge removed that option last week and ruled the jury could consider second-degree murder, lesser manslaughter charges or no guilty conviction at all.
When the trial ended Friday, the prosecutor asked a Los Angeles County jury to do what no local jury had done in nearly 30 years: convict a police officer of murder in an on-duty police shooting.
"I think there is a very strong chance that he'll be convicted of involuntary manslaughter, which is kind of a compromise verdict between murder and acquittal," Jonathan Masur, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, told ABCNews.com. "At least the jury will view it as a compromise verdict. I'm not sure that the people in Oakland who are upset would be satisfied with involuntary manslaughter."
The shooting sparked violent street protests in Oakland, where Grant – a young father from Hayward, Calif., who had been recently released from jail – was seen as a symbol of long-simmering tensions between minorities and law enforcement. He became a martyr of sorts, his image plastered on buildings and storefront windows across the city.
In Oakland, police braced to prevent a repeat of the rioting that occurred after grainy videos of the shooting were made public. There were about 100 arrests. Officers were brushing up on crowd control procedures and working 12-hour shifts. In Los Angeles, already-tight security around the courthouse will be beefed up on verdict day.
"We're not anticipating or hearing of any violence," Oakland Police Department spokeswoman Holly Joshi told ABCNews.com. "The main body of preparation is not crowd control or riot preparation, but it has to do with reaching out to community leaders."
In his closing argument, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Stein said police officers were supposed to protect and serve, not abuse their authority. "We also entrust them with our lives and our fellow citizens,'" he said. "Oscar Grant represents one of those citizens."
But defense attorney Michael Rains called the shooting a tragic accident, saying his client had inadequate training. Mehserle testified that he accidentally grabbed his gun instead of reaching for his Taser. Witnesses testified that Mehserle appeared to be in shock after shooting Grant.