Drawing gun instead of Taser brings back memories of Oscar Grant's death at Fruitvale BART station

Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris said the shooting death of Duante Wright in Minnesota is similar to the killing of Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale BART station 12 years ago.

Both men were shot by police officers who said they meant to use their Tasers but mistakenly grabbed their guns.

"When I first heard about it it was deja vu all over again to coin a phrase," Burris said. "Because we'd gone thru this over 10 years ago.  And secondly, I'm shocked by the loss of a life. A 20-year-old's life."

Burris was the attorney representing Grant's family, in one of the most well-known Taser-gun cases in the country. 

In 2009, former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle testified that he believed Grant had a weapon, and he reached for his stun gun but mistakenly pulled his .40-caliber handgun instead. He shot Grant as the 22-year-old lay face down. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison. His department paid $2.8 million to Grant’s daughter and her mother.

Daunte Wright shooting: How does an officer use a gun instead of a Taser?

Rev. Jethroe Moore of the San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP, also drew swift comparisons.  

"We heard this before. It's still not acceptable. It's deplorable that you're telling us a trained officer doesn't know the difference between the two," Moore said. "I'm shocked and saddened because we haven't gotten over the past, the Floyd incident. Here we are going to another incident.
America needs psychological help"

Experts agree that mistaking a Taser for a gun is a real but very rare occurrence that probably happens less than once a year nationwide.

A 2012 article published in the monthly law journal of Americans for Effective Law Enforcement documented nine cases in which officers shot suspects with handguns when they said they meant to fire stun guns dating back to 2001.

Reasons cited include officer training, the way they carry their weapons and the pressure of dangerous, chaotic situations. To avoid confusion, officers typically carry their stun guns on their weak sides — or their non-dominant hand — and away from handguns that are carried on the side of their strong arms. This is the case in Brooklyn Center, where Gannon, the police chief, said officers are trained to carry a handgun on their dominant side and their stun gun on their weak side.

Bill Lewinski, an expert on police psychology and founder of the Force Science Institute in Mankato, Minnesota, has used the phrase "slip and capture" errors to describe the phenomenon.

Lewinski, who has testified on behalf of the police, has said officers sometimes perform the direct opposite of their intended actions under stress — their actions "slip" and are "captured" by a stronger response. He notes that officers train far more often on drawing and firing their handguns than they do on their stun guns.

Other experts express skepticism about the theory.

"There’s no science behind it," said Geoffrey Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina and an expert on police use of force. "It’s a good theory, but we have no idea if it’s accurate."

Alpert said a major factor in why officers mistakenly draw their firearms is that stun guns typically look and feel like a gun.

St. Paul, Minnesota, Mayor Melvin Carter brought up the same point during a news conference Monday.

"Why do we even have Tasers that operate and function and feel and deploy exactly like a firearm?" Carter asked. "Why can’t we have Tasers that look and feel different? That you could never mistake for deploying a firearm so that we can ensure that mistake that has happened before can never happen again?"

The Fox Digital Team, KTVU staff, Azenith Smith and Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.