- Associated Press - Monday, June 13, 2011

LOS ANGELES — A white former transit officer in the San Francisco Bay area convicted in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man that has drawn continuing protest was released from jail early Monday after serving one year of a two-year sentence, officials said.

Johannes Mehserle managed to slip away from the Los Angeles County’s Twin Towers jail shortly after midnight unseen by a few protesters in the street as well as waiting reporters.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore told the Associated Press that Mr. Mehserle was freed from custody at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

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Mr. Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, told KTVU-TV on Monday that precautions were taken because there were too many safety concerns to let his client just walk out of jail.

When asked whether Mr. Mehserle can go home again, Mr. Rains said sounded optimistic.

“Well, we don’t know. We’ll know more about that in the next 10 days to two weeks,” Mr. Rains said. “We hope he will be able to go home because he has always called Northern California home and he really doesn’t want to call any place else home. But if he can’t go home, he’s going to call another place home, and he will go there with his family and he will live a productive life.”

Mr. Mehserle, 29, was convicted last July of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Oscar Grant, 22, on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train station platform in Oakland on New Year’s Day 2009.

He served his time in Los Angeles after his attention-getting trial was moved to Southern California.

The shooting continues to spark racial tension and occasional protests that have turned violent. Last fall, more than 150 people were arrested in Oakland hours after Mr. Mehserle’s sentencing.

About 25 protesters gathered Monday at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse where Mr. Mehserle was tried. They walked to a nearby U.S. District Court building to demand that federal charges be brought against the former officer.

“We are here because there has been an injustice,” protester Julia Wallace said.

A few federal police officers watched the protest, which remained peaceful.

Meanwhile, a group of demonstrators in Oakland on Monday filed a class-action lawsuit against the police department claiming that they were unlawfully arrested and jailed while protesting Mr. Mehserle’s sentencing in November.

More than 150 people were arrested as police cited them with unlawful assembly, but no charges were ever filed. The Oakland city attorney’s office declined to comment as it has not reviewed the suit.

The shooting was recorded by bystanders, and video posted online showed the BART officer firing a bullet into the back of Mr. Grant, 22, as he lay face down after being pulled off a train, suspected of fighting.

The videos subsequently were used as evidence during Mr. Mehserle’s murder trial and posted online, further stoking the racial tensions brought on by the shooting.

Facing a second-degree murder charge and a maximum 14 years in prison, Mr. Mehserle tearfully testified at his trial that he meant to use his stun gun instead of his .40-caliber pistol.

Jurors found that while Mr. Mehserle didn’t mean to kill Mr. Grant, his behavior was so negligent that it was criminal.

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