A mob-style robbery on a BART train in April wasn’t the first time passengers were held up in a group attack, according to victims who spoke to 2 Investigates. Statistics also reveal that BART has a problem with robberies onboard trains, and it’s a trend that’s been increasing over the past few years.
On April 22, a crowd of rowdy juveniles rushed a train at the Coliseum BART station, attacking and robbing passengers on board. Rusty Stapp says some of the mob punched and kicked him, then pried his iPhone from his hands.
“In the melee I let go of my phone, they took my phone, continued on for a few seconds more then got off of me,” he said. Stapp’s said his wife and teen daughter were with him and traumatized from the robbery.
One day later investigators had Stapp watch surveillance video of the crime. But, he says, the cameras only showed the station platform and not the cameras onboard, leading him to wonder if the internal cameras on the train were even working.
In the surveillance video of the platform, Stapp said he could see the mob immediately swarming the doors, “beating on the train and then go in.”
But Stapp says the most disturbing revelation came later when, he says, he learned from police that there have also been other similar mob-style attacks on BART.
“It doesn’t look like BART is having even a modest amount of protection for the people riding the system or the people who work there,” said Stapp.
Another victim, Dan Mendez, tells 2 Investigates that a similar mob-style hold-up happened to him, just one month before the high-profile robbery that victimized Stapp and his family.
According to his police report, Mendez was robbed by men with guns onboard a BART train, as it pulled into the Coliseum station. He said a group of about a dozen people boarded at Bay Fair and then approached him in his seat. He said at least two of the men were armed.
“They just surrounded me, two guys with guns,” he said. Mendez said the group got away with his iPhone, backpack, and laptop.
“Sure enough when the train stopped, the doors opened, they all came at me and ran off.” And Mendez also told 2 Investigates that when he reported the robbery, BART police told him this wasn’t the first time they had heard of such a group robbery either.
“He said it doesn't happen a lot,” Mendez said, referring to the responding officer, “but that there's been a spike lately in crimes like that.”
Attorney Paul Justi is representing both Mendez and Stapp. Last month, Stapp and Justi filed a claim, citing negligence by the transit agency in for failing to do enough to prevent and respond to the attack by the group, with estimates that it ranged between 40 and 60 juveniles.
When asked if he believes that BART is doing enough to keep passengers safe, Justi said “we contend that they absolutely are not.”
Justi said that both attacks appear to be part of a pattern that BART should have already taken steps to address.
“The incidence of these types of snatch and grab, mob-style, blitzkrieg-style robberies do appear to be spiking and does appear to be especially concentrated at the Coliseum BART station.”
Data obtained by 2 Investigates shows that robberies onboard BART trains has been on the rise for the past two years. However, the statistics do not differentiate between mob-style robberies and others.
In the first three months of 2017, there have been 71 robberies on BART system, according to the data. But during the same period last year, that number was 49, reflecting a 45 percent increase.
The pattern was similar in the previous year, when BART reported 143 robberies system-wide for the entire year in 2015, only to see it jump in 2016 to 207 robberies total.
In Zone 1, which covers Oakland, the spike was even more dramatic. In the first three months of 2017, the number of robberies climbed to 29, up from 19 in the same period last year.
Last month BART swore in its new Police Chief, Carlos Rojas, who says targeting the mob-style attacks is on his radar.
“I did read the news on the issue, and of course anytime you have incident such as that it's always a public safety concern,” Rojas said, just minutes after swearing in.
Rojas also said that he is considering deploying more BART Police officers on trains to help curb the problem. BART has also established a task force working with various police agencies to crack down on robberies.
The new chief told 2 Investigates that once he’s had more time on the job to review the issue and get specifics on how he will proceed, he would be willing to meet to discuss a possible action plan in the future.
Rojas emphasized that he wants the transit system to be safe for everyone. And despite his plans to move forward with his lawsuit, Stapp agreed.
“I don't want to see [BART] fail I want to see it succeed. But to succeed it needs to be safe.”