Violent arrest by BART Police puts focus on racial profiling

Unarmed African American man punched while handcuffed and on the ground, videos show

On Friday, BART police arrested Michael Smith, 22, along with his pregnant partner Andrea Appleton, 23, after receiving a 911 call reporting a man with a gun at Embarcadero BART station. We now know that there was no gun involved. Videos of the violent arrest sparked outrage on social media as witnesses insist that BART officers refuse to listen to witness testimonies.

Lieutenant Kevin Franklin, BART’s manager of security programs, told activists and community members to call him or internal affairs with witness statements regarding officers’ alleged refusal to take witness statements.

BART officials say that Smith had allegedly kicked one police officer in the head and throat, bit another and spit on a third. Multiple videos recorded and shared on Facebook show an officer punching Smith while he’s handcuffed on the ground. Appleton was subsequently released but Smith had been held at the San Francisco county jail since and was due to be released yesterday.

Pamela Martinez who was was seated inside a BART train alongwith her mother when she witnessed the arrest “The whole train, inside and outside, started yelling racial justice, I could hear people say that it wasn’t fair and that they didn’t do anything. Suddenly people’s reactions grew even stronger and even more horrified so that’s when I knew that we had to get off and so we did.” Martinez has been traumatized by the incident and was visibly shaking as she recalled the fear she felt as she pulled her phone out to record parts of the arrest. “I saw the policemen brutally, that’s the only word I can use brutally attack these kids. The kids looked like teenagers and they weren’t doing anything.” Martinez said that she saw Smith flailing his arms and legs while the BART officer had his knee on his back “That’s when you can hear the whole station yell ‘get off his back you are going to break it'”

 

Law student Tarina Larsen recorded multiple videos during the arrest including one that shows an officer punching Smith while he was lying on his stomach handcuffed. Right before the punch the video shows Smith lifting his head up & appears to spit on the Officer who then responds with a punch. Larsen witnessed at least one woman trying to give a statement to the officers. “I saw this one woman trying to speak to the officers and they just brushed her off. She kept repeating that they hadn’t done anything, these were just kids playing, that happens all the time. The officers continued to dismiss the women despite her repeated attempt to explain to them that they shouldn’t be making arrests since nothing happened. The woman was trying to tell the cops that an older white man was calling them names and when they told him to stop he had the audacity to call the police. The police then came on the scene and proceeded to violently arrest these two kids without even listening to witness statements, this is what bigotry looks like,” Larsen said. Larsen recorded multiple videos and has been co-operating with the San Francisco Public Defenders Office who are handling Smith’s case.

In the arraignment hearing, Smith, represented by Public Defender Jeff Adachi, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to six charges of misdemeanours battery on a police officer and one charge of misdemeanors resisting arrest. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy ordered Smith, who has been in custody since Friday with bail set at $180,000, to be released with supervision. Smith is scheduled to stand trial on Aug 19.

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Adachi said that Smith and his girlfriend were traveling to San Francisco to visit a gynaecologist “We have looked at the video of the arrest that was circulated on social media and as you can see in the video he was struck several times by officers.” Adachi said that there was no justification for the way in which the arrest took place: “We are extremely concerned about this case it appears that the officers assumed that Mr. Smith was guilty based on an uncorroborated report of someone who may have called them.”

Smith’s paternal aunt, Dr. Jacqueline Smith, broke down when asked if she saw the video of the arrest. “I could never watch the video again, but I felt is that my kid? Who could treat another human being like that? Who could put their hands on anybody like that?”

Adachi spoke about the issues of racial profiling — both Smith and Appelton are African American — saying that in this instance someone called the police and made a false statement resulting in a violent arrest that could have been avoided altogether.

In a first of its kind data release by the SFPD and reported by The Examiner revealed that the police used force against black people more than any other group. Forty-five percent of force incidents involved black people, followed by 29 percent that involved white people. Data also shows every category of force was used in higher numbers against black people. Hispanic people accounted for 19 percent of use-of-force incidents, and 7 percent involved Asian people.

Alex Bastian, assistant district attorney at San Francisco District Attorney’s Office confirmed that DA’s office had reviewed body camera footage and will be releasing it during trial.  “The decision was made based on the evidence and our office was also concerned when we first saw the videos and when we began to investigate the case we also came into consideration with the body camera footage that was recording during the time of the incident. All the cops at the scene during the time of the incident had body camera footage that body camera footage is part of the investigation and upon review of that we made the charging decision accordingly,” Bastian said.

Dr. Smith is relieved she would be able to take her nephew back home: “I am really glad that at least they didn’t kill him. This could happen to anybody’s child and I am really thankful to everybody at the BART station who intervened, they couldn’t physically, but at least they said thing and my kid is here. That’s it.”

During the arraignment Smith’s past criminal history that was also brought up that includes probation in two counties for a prior battery conviction. Pre-trial hearing is scheduled for August 15th.

The story has been updated with more details that were not reported earlier