Thursday, March 4, 2021
News + Politics Violent arrest by BART Police puts focus on racial...

Violent arrest by BART Police puts focus on racial profiling

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

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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

 

 

Sana Saleem
Sana Saleem is a writer with a focus on social justice and human stories. She's member board of advisory for the Courage Foundation, Edward Snowden's legal defense fund.

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  53. If an arrest is illegal; there is no such thing as resisting. You have the right to resist kidnapping by any force up to killing the kidnapper.

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  57. BART is a five minute walk from my house and stops right in front of where I work but I started driving to work because, frankly, I got sick of the low life that roam the system harassing passengers, insulting people, etc. I’d get to work angry. Now, I just kick back and listen to some music without having to see any fights, be hassled by the homeless, etc.

    The sad thing is, when the BART police actually try to *DO* something to try to improve the gross system they’re running they’re accused of brutality. Some of the people who ride BART should try some of their sh*t on the NYC subway if they want to see what *real* brutality is.

    Contrast BART with CalTrain, which is a peaceful commute without roving homeless and/or lunatics, ghetto people arguing and fighting (I’ve recorded some *priceless* fights on my phone which are hilarious, but only from a safe distance).

    BART needs to:

    1. Build floor to ceiling turnstiles to stop fare jumpers.
    2. STOP giving discounts to students. Most people causing trouble on BART are 15-25 or so.
    3. Open their camera feeds to the general public so riders can find clips of people causing trouble and submit them to the BART PD.
    4. Be more aggressive about enforcing bans on panhandlers, etc.

  58. There’s nothing surprising about this coming from BART Police. That department needs to be disbanded and reformed from the ground up. Two words say it all: Oscar Grant, but these toxic gorillas keep repeating themselves. I have ridden BART since it started over 40 years ago. BART Police have always been incompetent bullies. It’s time to end this offense against justice, decency, and the community that pays these clown thugs. Enough was enough years and years ago. BART management is totally responsible and totally irresponsible. We need to fire the entire board and elect one that will serve our community instead of their thug bureaucracy and its featherbedding and rotten fake public “rapid” (!!!) transit — mile for mile, the most expensive in America, and the noisiest. And the deadliest, and the most brutal.

  59. I really don’t think that resisting arrest should be rewarded with a payout. I don’t care who it is or how people want to speculate. Resisting arrest is resisting arrest. There is no gray area in this case.

  60. Homophobic and racism together (mentality of police depts) across America. Caught loop hole,
    mayoral office guilty, also using diversity of color codes? How D.A and city managers are minorities support the oppression where the justice? Liability going to increase never concede!

  61. Sorry I can’t change the formatting based on your assumption of bias. Read what a “lead” is & some more. But yes, any and all criticism is welcome. Thanks for being such an avid reader. Good day!

  62. Yeah, I saw that. It was buried in the middle of a paragraph much further down in the article, while the original misrepresentation remained untouched in a much higher, more visible position.

    BTW, I looked at the tape again and the kicking is on it also.

  63. Please read again, where it describes the videos “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.” Where it says allegedly it reports the list of allegations that will be discussed in the trial and body cam footage will be released.
    Thanks!

  64. Thanks. You didn’t really change what you wrote:

    “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”

    So despite the fact that both the spitting and the punch are visible in the video, the spitting is described as only being something that Bart officials allege while the punch is something that was caught on multiple videos. Not everyone will view that tape to see that what you wrote was biased. If they do view the tape they will see that the punch was an immediate reaction to the spitting.

    You never know how things like this would play out if Smith hadn’t been a person of color, but the video shows that he got punched because he spat in the face of a police officer.

    The main thing that we don’t know is how the initial encounter between the police and Smith unfolded. One would hope that the police gave Smith a chance to explain himself before proceeding with the arrest. If they didn’t then, yes, they acted improperly.

  65. Hi, thanks so much for pointing this out. You are absolutely right, it was my mistake to miss that and I have updated the story as such. Can’t report the punch and say spitting was “alleged” when it can be seen on the video. What I initially thought was that Smith lifted his head up and said something to the officer (possibly cussed at him etc) but having seen it closely it does appear that he spat at the officer who then punched him. The prior probation wasn’t mentioned because both the DA’s office plus the family refused to elaborate and the Officers on the scene weren’t aware of such. Also it will be something that will come up again during the trial and can not be omitted. I have included that as well. A note has also been added to note the updates. Thank you for your valuable criticism and for pointing out an important detailed that I hadn’t reported. Sana

  66. Ya know, when some crazy person says something weird to me, I quickly move along There is no % in conversing with a moron. I’m sorry if this was the case for Mr Smith. Maybe he should have called police himself; but with several priors and probations, I can imagine why he might be a bit reticent to call.

    It would be nice to see the body cams from the initial contact. BART police may have been a bit rough, with suspicions of a gun. Even still, Mr Smiths actions – alleged, but buttressed at 1:25 – are rather partisan.

    HUGH payout? Yeah, We know the system’s rigged. But for a punch to a spit?. Gimme a break.

  67. From the Chronicle: “Smith and his girlfriend were on their way to a doctor’s appointment
    when the passenger started harassing the woman, Adachi said. He said that the man had told Smith’s girlfriend that she smelled and that when Smith asked him not to talk that way, the passenger called police.

    Tarina Larsen, a witness who posted the cell phone video of the arrest on Facebook, gave a similar account. She said online that a “white male antagonized them with racial slurs and then had the audacity to call the cops on them knowing damn well what will happen to those kids next.””

    So there you have it. The white passenger who is a racist who made a false claim to the police is not arrested and the black target of that racism is arrested and given another dose of racism.

    This is not going to turn out well for BART. I hope the payout is huge.

  68. True. In the article the spitting is something that Bart officials ‘allege’ while the punch is something that was recorded on video. In reality, the spitting is also right there in the video (at 1:20) and the punch was an immediate reaction.

    I don’t think that it is fair to Sana to expect her to be able to see something that she doesn’t want to see, but both actions are right there in the video. You can even see the Bart officer wipe the spit off his face while holding Smith’s head down. And the punch seemed to be half punch/half shove to get Smith’s head out of spitting range.

    So we really don’t know much unless the body cameras can provide detail about the way that the officers initially approached Smith.

    FWIW, the journalists who have reported on this have included the history that Smith had 2 prior incidents of resisting arrest in Bart, involving spitting and biting. He is currently on probation in 2 counties for a prior battery conviction.

  69. Ok, its … impossible … to determine what happened from the posted video. The body cams should be v interesting.

    I see one person (the gal) zip-tied and walking about. I see the guy, on the ground, being restrained, with some apparent difficulty. There are allegations that the suspect bit and kicked officers (earlier? – was that why he was on the ground, and not walking around, like his GF?) I see struggling, as the third officer rushes over to assist. The suspect is not cooperating.

    Then at 1:25, after writhing around/resisting on the deck, Smith cranes his neck and head toward the officer, then spits! and the officer reacts with a punch to the head.

    I guess, ideally, the officer would have scolded the suspect, then taken him into custody. Maybe the officer shouldn’t have reacted as he did and hit the suspect. But I wouldn’t call that “cruel” or “brutal” – I guess I’d call it “getting what one deserves”. It was one punch, not a prolonged beat-down, a la Rodney King.

    And maybe I (we) need to know much more of what happened – and the initial interaction does sound suspicious. But from whats on display … overblown and misinterpreted.

    BTW, not sure if the crowd is helping – vocalizing like a middle school fight scene.

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