Six BART passengers who were beaten, threatened or robbed by mobs of young people in three separate incidents in March and April filed a lawsuit Thursday against the transit agency, accusing it of failing to protect its passengers.
Attorney Paul Justi, who represents the six plaintiffs, said the crimes, including one by a mob of between 40 to 60 youths at Oakland’s Coliseum station on April 22, were “predictable and preventable” because they were similar and alleged that BART isn’t doing enough to make its passengers safe.
Speaking at a news conference outside the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse after he filed the suit in Alameda County Superior Court, Justi claimed BART trains and stations are “a safe zone not for passengers but for criminals to rob and beat passengers at will.”
Justi said the passengers suffered emotional distress and trauma and the suit seeks unspecified general, special and punitive damages.
BART’s attorney, Dale Allen, said, “There’s no legal precedent for this lawsuit to go forward” because the state Legislature has created immunity for all law enforcement agencies since “it’s impossible to stop all crimes.”
“BART directors have expressed their regret that these tragedies have happened to these passengers. … BART police monitor 46 stations over 100 miles of tracks and 400,000 passengers and try to stop as much crime as they can with the staffing they have.”
Three of the plaintiffs are Rusty Stapp, his wife Patricia and their 19-year-old daughter Amanda, who allege in the suit that BART was negligent in allowing the mob of youths to board their Dublin-bound train at the Coliseum station at about 9:30 p.m. on April 22 and failing to coordinate with other police agencies.
Stapp, who joined Justi at the news conference, said two male juveniles jumped on him and started punching him and a third juvenile kicked him and he eventually relinquished his cellphone.
Stapp said then when his wife checked on him a female juvenile reached over and stole her purse and ran off the train.
Stapp said he wasn’t seriously injured but had lumps on his head, cuts and bruises and sore ribs.
Timothy Howk, who also participated in the news conference, said BART police should have been better prepared for the April 22 attack because he was the victim of a similar mob attack at the Coliseum four days earlier, on April 18, and BART police told him there was another similar attack on April 17.
Howk said that at about 10:30 p.m. on April 18 he boarded a Dublin-bound train at the Powell Street station to get back to his home in Pleasanton but as the train approached the Coliseum station a group of teens entered the car where he was seated and began banging on its windows and engaged in loud and raucous conduct to distract passengers.
Howk said one of the teens stole his cellphone and he gave chase but the teen turned around, demanded his wallet and threatened to shoot him, with his hand in his pocket in a threatening way as if he were holding a gun there.
“It was pretty frightening.”
Another plaintiff in the suit is Mohammad Rasul, who was on the same train as the Stapp family was the night of April 22.
The suit says a group of teens stole Rasul’s bag, which included a family heirloom ring that had been in his family for six generations, dating back to his family’s origins in Afghanistan.
The suit alleges that:
“BART failed and refused to vigorously pursue any effort to investigate the crime, apprehend the criminals or prosecute the perpetrators.”
An additional plaintiff is Daniel Mendez, who the suit says is a professional DJ who boarded a BART train at the Dublin station on March 20 to go to the San Francisco International Airport to travel to Miami, where he had an engagement as a DJ for a large international music festival.
The suit says a large group of juveniles boarded the train at the Bayfair station in San Leandro and Mendez could sense “the clear and present danger of imminent criminal activity.”
The suit says one of the juveniles left Mendez’s car but immediately returned with two adult males who prevented Mendez from leaving the train and one of the men had his hand in his jacket pocket and Mendez could see the outline of a gun in the pocket.
The suit says Mendez was surrounded by a large group of people and “sat in mortal terror for his life for several minutes, waiting to be attacked.”
The suit says that as the train pulled into the Coliseum station the group grabbed Mendez’s suitcase, including his laptop, which contained his entire library of songs, music and DJ materials.
The suit says Mendez got off the train at the next station to report the crime but when he told the station agent that he’d just been robbed she was busy eating a meal and “displayed an attitude of complete indifference toward Mendez and simply kept eating her meal.”
Howk and Rusty Stapp both said they are now nervous about riding BART and when they do so they always sit in the front car so they can be near the train operator.
Reflecting on the robbery at the Coliseum station on April 22, Stapp said:
“The casualness of the suspects indicated to me that it wasn’t the first time they had done it.”