A lawsuit was filed against BART on Thursday by six people who allege they were victims of similar mob style attacks and the transit agency failed to keep them safe.
Attorney Paul B. Justi represents the victims and spoke to media outlets outside the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland where he was joined by two of the six victims.
“BART has allowed its trains to become a safe zone, not for passengers, but for criminals to commit crimes with virtual immunity,” Justi said.
One of the victims, Tim Howk of Pleasanton, said he was riding BART on April 18, 2017 as it approached the Coliseum station in Oakland. Howk said he remembers reading an article on his phone about NBA player Kevin Garnett’s ankle.
“These kids all of a sudden swarm, start grabbing lap tops, phones, grab my phone,” Howk said. “I thought they were just screwing around. Next thing I know he’s running with my phone. I pursed and when I caught up to him, one of his accomplices said, ‘Give me your wallet and your phone or I’ll shoot you’.”
Howk said he identified one of the suspects to police and filed a police report in which the police officer admitted that a similar attack had happened the previous night.
Four days later, another mob style attack at the Coliseum station made headlines when roughly 40 to 60 juveniles beat and robbed passengers. Rusty Stapp was one of those victims who was on the train with his wife and daughter. The family no longer rides BART at night.
“I’ve heard nothing on my case since April,” Stapp said.
The lawsuit alleges the six plaintiffs were victims of criminal activities that were known to BART and were part of a pattern of criminal activity committed in the same general location; therefore the attacks were both predictable and preventable by BART.
The victims also claim there has been inadequate follow up on prosecuting the criminals in each case.
“Passengers should not feel like they’re stepping back into the wild west into a lawless environment reminiscent of being held up by gangs of highway men and women every time they enter a BART train,” Justi said.
Dale Allen, Jr., an attorney for BART, tells KTVU the facts don’t support that BART is ignoring crime, but rather do their very best to prevent it. He said it is impossible to stop all crime.
“Their police technology does identify where crime has a pattern of occurring, but the reality is, as with all police departments in California, you can’t prevent every crime even when you know a pattern develops,” he said.
Allen added that the California State Legislature has recognized that the community services being brought forth by law enforcement only allow them to do so much, meaning they have immunity from such lawsuits.
However, the passengers who filed suit are not convinced BART is doing everything in its power to keep riders safe.
“We’ve got to make some changes here because you should be able to go out on public transit and not have to fear for your life,” Stapp said.
“I concluded that BART police are either incompetent to keep us safe or they don’t care about the safety of passengers,” Howk added. “It seems to me you have a group of juveniles outsmarting a professional law enforcement agency.”