PLEASANT HILL, Calif. (KTVU) - Video of a Bart police officer detaining a man for eating a sandwich on a platform at the Pleasant Hill Station was met with criticism Friday, and now the transit agency's general manager is speaking out about the incident.
In a statement released Monday in response to the video, General Manager Bob Powers said eating on platforms and trains is prohibited and there are signs posted at every station to make sure riders are aware. He said the reason is to keep stations and trains clean.
Powers said the officer in the Nov. 4 incident was just doing his job when he detained, handcuffed and cited the man. But he said he's disappointed with how the situation unfolded.
Part of the statement read:
" The officer asked the rider not to eat while passing by on another call. It should have ended there, but it didn’t. When the officer walked by again and still saw him eating, he moved forward with the process of issuing him a citation. The individual refused to provide identification, cursed at and made homophobic slurs at the officer who remained calm throughout the entire engagement.The officer was doing his job but context is key. Enforcement of infractions such as eating and drinking inside our paid area should not be used to prevent us from delivering on our mission to provide safe, reliable, and clean transportation. We have to read each situation and allow people to get where they are going on time and safely.
Powers went on to apologize to the man at the center of the video along with riders of the mass transit system, employees and the public.
A 10-minute video of the incident was posted on Facebook Friday morning by the man detained, Steve Foster of Concord. The video, taken by Foster's girlfriend, shows BART police Officer D. McCormick holding onto a bag and not letting it go, which belonged to the BART passenger.
According to the video, officer McCormick told the passenger he was going to be arrested. When the passenger responds by asking if it was for eating, the officer replies that he is being arrested for resisting arrest.
The transit agency responded to questions about the incident on Twitter Friday, saying the incident that the passenger was issued a citation. "We've brought this to the attention of the Chief. We've also sent the video to our Independent Police Auditor and he confirms he is reviewing."
In the video, the BART officer calls for backup help. About a minute later, police sirens can be heard in the background. When the other officer arrives, the passenger is handcuffed and removed from the platform.
Foster told KTVU that he was left angry and confused by the incident. "I've never had anything like that happen to me before. I've definitely had run-ins with the police before, but that was by far the pettiest," Foster said, calling the incident "childish."
BART riders note that the priorities of BART police are unclear. The agency has been working to curb fare evaders and drug use on the system.
On Twitter, BART followed up on their previous statement, saying "... we asked police why he was handcuffed and was told the individual was refusing to provide his name which is needed for citation and was lawfully handcuffed."
Foster told KTVU he eats breakfast on the run when he uses BART to get to work in San Francisco. The transit agency has signs posted at the station and on trains prohibiting eating. He would like to see the officer disciplined somehow and said paid leave wouldn't work. "I think he really needs to know that he can't approach people the way he did or talk to people the way he did just because he has a badge," Foster said. "I think I was singled out because I was black, to be honest."
Foster said he wanted to share the video, but didn't think it would make the news. He admits he's "not a saint" but also said he's not looking for trouble, especially over eating a sandwich.
BART told KTVU Friday evening, "The individual was not cooperative and was refusing to provide his name, which is needed for a citation and is why the engagement lasted as long as it did."
Officer McCormick said he was initially on the platform looking for an intoxicated woman when he saw Foster eating. Foster says that while he's never been in this situation before, he's considering a lawsuit at the advice of others.
Foster faces a $250 fine and 48 hours of community service. He plans on fighting his citation.
Full Statement from Bob Powers:
"Moving 415,000 riders each day comes with complexities and there are laws in place to keep our system safe, welcoming, and clean.
I’ve seen the video of the incident involving a man eating on our platform and our police response. Eating in the paid area is banned and there are multiple signs inside every station saying as much. As a transportation system our concern with eating is related to the cleanliness of our stations and system. This was not the case in the incident at Pleasant Hill station on Monday.
The officer asked the rider not to eat while passing by on another call. It should have ended there, but it didn’t. When the officer walked by again and still saw him eating, he moved forward with the process of issuing him a citation. The individual refused to provide identification, cursed at and made homophobic slurs at the officer who remained calm through out the entire engagement.
The officer was doing his job but context is key. Enforcement of infractions such as eating and drinking inside our paid area should not be used to prevent us from delivering on our mission to provide safe, reliable, and clean transportation. We have to read each situation and allow people to get where they are going on time and safely.
I’m disappointed how the situation unfolded. I apologize to Mr. Foster, our riders, employees, and the public who have had an emotional reaction to the video.
I’ve spoken to our interim Police Chief about my feelings related to this incident and our Independent Police Auditor is conducting an independent investigation. He will report his findings to our Citizen Review Board."