San Francisco

Oakland Man Sues BART for Excessive Force and False Arrest

An Oakland man who was arrested during a violent struggle with BART police last year has sued the transit agency and four officers for alleged use of excessive force, false arrest and assault.

Michael Smith, 23, filed the civil rights lawsuit in federal court in Oakland on Sept. 1.

Smith was arrested at BART's Embarcadero Station in San Francisco on July 29, 2016, as he and his pregnant girlfriend left the train. The four officers were responding to a 911 call from a passenger who claimed a man who might be armed had threatened to rob him.

Smith's lawsuit alleges the officers never told him he was suspected of a crime or questioned him, but pointed guns at him, threw him to the ground so that his face smashed into the platform and handcuffed him.

Then, the lawsuit alleges, "they proceeded to beat him severely, including punching him in the face, and using their knees and bodyweight to crush his chest into the train platform and prevent him from breathing."

The officers alleged that Smith bit, kicked and spat on them while resisting arrest.

The confrontation was captured on video on officers' body cameras and on the cellphones of two bystanders. The bystanders' videos drew a public outcry when they were circulated on social media; one of the videos appeared to show police punching Smith on the head while he was pinned to the ground.

Smith was tried in San Francisco Superior Court in December on misdemeanor charges related to the arrest.

A jury acquitted him of four counts of misdemeanor battery on a police officer. The jurors could not reach a verdict on two other charges of battery, one count of resisting arrest, and a lesser charge of simple battery, and prosecutors later dropped those charges.

Smith was never charged with robbery or attempted robbery in connection with the 911 call. Police said they decided not to seek such charges because the man who called later told them that a suspect had allegedly threatened to rob him but never brandished a weapon.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who represented Smith in the misdemeanor trial, said last year that a white male passenger on the BART train had made possibly racially motivated remarks about Smith, who is black, and his girlfriend and that the couple was trying to get away from him when they left the train.

The lawsuit asks for financial compensation for Smith's pain, suffering, deprivation of liberty and loss of wages.

The suit says Smith believes three of the officers named as defendants were the ones who beat him. They are Officers Bryan Trabanino, Wilson Velasquez-Ochoa and Jimmy Chung. The suit contends that a fourth officer, Antwinette Turner, should have intervened to protect him.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said she had not seen the lawsuit as of Wednesday evening.

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