LOS ANGELES – When Marysol Domenici arrived at an Oakland transit station responding to a call about a fight, she was met by a train full of rowdy New Year's Eve revelers and a situation that was about to boil over.
Her main responsibility as a transit police officer on that last night of 2008 was to keep tabs on several young men near a concrete wall. When the group saw her partner get rough with one of their friends, they stood up and repeatedly yelled.
Minutes later, tensions escalated and a fellow officer, Johannes Mehserle, shot one of the men in the back while he lay face down on the ground. Oscar Grant, 22, died hours later at a hospital.
On Thursday, she was the first Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer who responded to the shooting called to testify at Mehserle's trial, but she had trouble remembering key details 18 months later.
Mehserle, who is white, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Grant, who is black. His trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles because of racial tensions and intense media coverage.
Domenici, who was fired in March from BART, testified that when she heard the gunshot — she described sounding like "a firework" go off — she wasn't sure who may have been injured.
By the reaction of officers, "I knew it wasn't one of us," Domenici said. "No one had their guns out."
On direct examination by Deputy District Attorney Dave Stein, Domenici couldn't recall information she provided at a preliminary hearing last year. At the time, she appeared flustered and her responses drew gasps from Grant's family. On Thursday, she was more composed but her memory remained scattered. What she couldn't recall, Domenici filled in the gaps with what she saw on video taken by several bystanders.
Stein read portions of her previous testimony in which she said she heard Grant and his friends tell her and other officers they were scared of being shot with a Taser stun gun.
"I don't remember them saying the tasing part, but I do remember them cooperating," Domenici said.
Mehserle's attorney has said his client meant to use his stun gun instead of his .40-caliber weapon. Stein has argued that Mehserle, 28, intended to shoot Grant and used his weapon because officers were losing control of the situation.
Domenici said she also didn't remember Grant grabbing her arm minutes before he was shot, but she said a video taken by a bystander showed it. Stein played the tape in court and the grainy resolution couldn't confirm Domenici's account.
Other aspects of Domenici's description of what happened were fuzzy at best. She said she had to veer around 40 to 50 people coming off the train as she responded to a chaotic scene. However, a platform video camera at the Fruitvale station captures Domenici but most passengers remained on the train.
Stein accused her of trying to exaggerate to justify the shooting.
"No sir," Domenici tersely replied to Stein's allegation.
Domenici, wearing a gray skirt and jacket, also said that one of Grant's friends threw a cell phone at her moments before the shooting. A video previously played at the trial showed Grant's friend hurl the device at another officer.
Testimony earlier in the trial from witnesses said Domenici's partner, Tony Pirone, was aggressive and hostile toward Grant and his buddies. Pirone also was let go from BART. Domenici is appealing her termination.
Domenici had testified at the preliminary hearing last year that the shooting could have been prevented if Grant had followed orders from officers. Domenici also said at that hearing that she feared she may have to kill someone after realizing Mehserle had shot Grant. She offered up no similar statements on Thursday.