A retired Los Angeles police officer listed as an expert witness in the Robert Bates manslaughter case once testified that officers who beat Rodney King with batons were not using excessive force.
The expert, Greg Meyer, also once opined that police should be allowed to use “chokeholds” on suspects to render them unconscious if needed.
Meyer is one of at least six expert witnesses that Bates’ attorney Clark Brewster plans to call when the second-degree manslaughter trial for his client begins later this month. Prosecutors objected to all six expert witnesses during a hearing Wednesday, but both sides eventually came to an agreement to allow the testimony.
Bates killed Eric Harris on April 2, 2015, during a botched gun sting in north Tulsa. Harris, described by his brother as a small-time criminal, sold a handgun to an undercover deputy that day, but fled when he saw other deputies arriving to arrest him. During the chase he was tackled, and then shot by approaching Bates who later told investigators he believed he was holding his Taser.
Harris was unarmed.
Meyer spent more than two decades at LAPD, including eight years “as a commanding officer,” before retiring in 2006. On his website, he says that he’s been an “expert witness” since 1989.
Expert witnesses testify in trials due to their specialized knowledge in relevant fields, usually medical, forensic or tactical. Several doctors are also on the Bates “expert witness” list and are expected to testify to specific medical reports or pre-existing conditions the defense alleges Harris had prior to the shooting.
Several police officers were acquitted of assault and excessive force charges for brutally beating Rodney King in 1991 in Los Angeles following a high-speed chase. The acquittal spawned violent riots in the city. During a subsequent federal civil trial over King’s beating, Meyer told jurors he didn’t believe the officers used excessive force.
Instead, according to an Associated Press story, Meyer said the officers were merely doing what they were taught at the time. Prior to the King beating, the city of Los Angeles had outlawed chokeholds by law enforcement officers following several deaths that received widespread publicity. Meyer told jurors that the officers who subdued King had no choice but to use their batons, an aftereffect of the chokehold ban.
“It was a case of emotional rather than rational policy-making, even though some people warned that baton beatings would be the inevitable result,” Meyer wrote in an internet article.
Meyer’s testimony during the King trial came up during an unrelated 2010 trial for Johannes Mehserle for which he was also an expert witness. The Mehserle case is particularly relevant to the Bates trial because of the similarity between the two incidents.
In 2009, Johannes Mehserle, a police officer assigned to the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, shot and killed a man named Oscar Grant after fights reportedly broke out on a train returning to Oakland from San Francisco.
The incident was filmed by numerous passersby. Grant was lying facedown on the ground when BART officer Tony Pirone placed his knee on Grant’s neck and informed him he was under arrest. Grant struggled, according to reports, and Mehserle approached him, said he was “gonna Tase him,” then shot the 22-year-old in the back.
Grant died seven hours later.
The shooting kicked off riots in Oakland, as did the officer’s conviction more than a year later, for which he spent 11 months in jail. Mehserle, who had been with BART police about two years at the time of the killing, was first charged with second-degree murder. He was eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter, a lesser charge, based partially on Meyer’s testimony.
Meyer declined an interview request with The Frontier, saying he would not respond to media requests until after Bates’ trial was over. However, William Lewinksi, the founder of “Force Science Institute,” for which Meyer is an analyst, gave a lengthy interview with The Frontier last year.
Force Science Institute is a controversial “use of force” training and education organization that often defends police officers involved in shootings. Its members have interviewed, advised, counseled or testified on behalf of thousands of police police officers across the nation, even as the institute’s methods and studies have been criticized.
His research has been maligned — unfairly so, Lewinski said — by an American Journal of Psychology editor, as well as by lawyers he says “make a living suing police.” A recent New York Times article on Lewinski said he trains officers to “shoot first, and he’ll answer questions later,” and his detractors have nicknamed him “The Angel of Death.”
Fayetteville, Ark., police chief Harold Medlock canceled a seminar last year on “police response to life-threatening encounters” following the New York Times article.
“I think we can use our training time in the department better,” Medlock told the Fayetteville Observer newspaper.
Bates faces a single charge second-degree manslaughter in Harris’ death, similar to the one for which Mehserle was ultimately convicted.
In fact, the Grant case is extremely similar to the Harris shooting. Like Grant, Harris was on the ground when he was shot, pinned down by another officer.
Court documents state Mehserle yelled at Pirone to “get away, back up,” before he fired his gun. In the Harris shooting, video shows Bates approaching the scene, yelling “Taser! Taser!” then firing.
Harris and Grant both yelled “He shot me!” after the officers’ weapons fired. Mehserle’s attorney said the officer “appeared surprised” after shooting Grant, while Bates was seen on video dropping his handgun to the street, where it was later picked up by another deputy.
Another BART officer reportedly testified that if Grant had “followed orders, this wouldn’t have happened.” Former Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Shannon Clark told reporters following Harris’ shooting that the 44-year-old Harris “was prepared to die that day,” though his crime was selling an unloaded gun to undercover officers.
Lewinski said video shows that, like the vest Bates was wearing April 2, Mehserle’s Taser was located on his chest, with his gun at his hip.
The Tasers carried by both Bates and Mehserle were even the same make and model, a Taser X26C.
Mehserle “made one error,” Lewinski told The Frontier in an interview last year. Lewinkski described how, once drawn, a Taser and a handgun are operated in different ways. The Taser, Lewinski said, has an activator on the back, while a handgun has a safety on the side.
When Mehserle grabbed his handgun, Lewinski said the officer could be seen trying to hit the activator, like it was a Taser.
“Everything we’ve got captured on video (in the Grant shooting,) tells us this was a tragic mistake,” Lewinski said. “It was human performance error, not a murder.”
But Bates is not charged with murder. Instead, the 74-year-old insurance executive is accused only of “culpable negligence” in Harris’ death. In the Mehserle case, Meyer testified that “deficiencies” in how BART trained its officers in Taser usage (officers were not trained to use Tasers in “high-stress” environments in which mistakes could be made) were the true culprits in Grant’s death.
Weeks before Bates was charged in Harris’ death allegations were made that he had not completed the weapons, mental health, or field training necessary to be on the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office Drug Task Force at the time of the Harris sting. Bates and Brewster have denied those allegations, but no proof has ever been offered that Bates had completed the necessary training.