BART General Manager Bob Powers said in a statement Monday that an independent police auditor will investigate an incident that led to a viral video depicting a man being physically detained for eating a breakfast sandwich inside the Pleasant Hill station last week.
Steve Foster is the BART rider caught up in the sandwich saga. He wants the officer who cuffed him to be disciplined and is also looking into his legal options.
Powers said Monday that before the video started of the Nov. 4 incident, the officer had asked the passenger not to eat and decided to move forward with a citation when the man continued to do so. Powers also said the passenger refused to provide identification and used homophobic slurs during the confrontation.
Powers expressed disappointment over the way the interaction unfolded, but said that eating in BART stations creates a concern for station cleanliness. It's also a violation of state law, and there are signs posted throughout the transit system.
"The officer was doing his job but context is key," Powers said.
"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," he added. "We have to read each situation and allow people to get where they are going on time and safely."
Powers said BART's Independent Police Auditor is investigating the case and will report findings to the agency's Citizen Review Board. The general manager also apologized for the incident.
Foster in response to the apology said BART "can shove it to be honest."
"I'm not harming anybody. I'm not a danger to myself or anybody else by eating a sandwich," Foster said.
He also said BART should be focusing its attention to other rule breakers.
Foster using Facebook profile under the name Bill Gluckman posted video of the verbal altercation on Friday. The video has garnered hundreds of comments and over a thousand shares, and has since been reposted on other social media platforms.
In it, the officer is seen grabbing a man's backpack, refusing to let him leave and threatening to take him to jail for resisting arrest.
"I've done nothing wrong," Foster said in the video.
"You can argue that to the judge," the officer replied.
Regardless of whether the officer was acting within the letter of the law, the interaction has prompted questions about BART police enforcement priorities. Activists have posted images of "eat in" protests, in which they ate food inside a BART station as an act of solidarity, using hashtags like #EATonBART or #brunchonBART.
Another such protest is scheduled for 5-10 a.m. Tuesday in all stations, according to a Facebook event posting called "Eat a breakfast sandwich on BART." As of Monday afternoon, more than 45 social media users had indicated they plan to participate in the protest.
"I take BART every weekday and I am sick of the criminal behavior, the blunt smoking on platforms the meth smoking on trains, the unchecked aggressive behavior from people suffering mental illness," event organizer Elliott Smith said in a message.
"BART has real safety problems that need to be addressed," he added. "Sandwich eating is not one of them."
Here's BART General Manager Bob Powers full statement:
"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."