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BART Officer Was Reprimanded for Account of Takedown in Which Woman Was Severely Injured

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Megan Sheehan, injured March 17, 2014, when a BART police officer slammed her face-first into the floor at Santa Rita Jail. (Via Megan Sheehan's lawsuit against BART)

A BART police officer who was captured on video in 2014 slamming a drunken woman face-first into a floor at Alameda County's Santa Rita Jail was later reprimanded for submitting a misleading report about the violent incident.

BART Officer Nolan Pianta wrote in his summary of the March 17, 2014, episode that he had "guided" Megan Sheehan, 28, to the floor after she had tried to strike him during a scuffle in the jail's booking area.

Sheehan's injuries included several facial fractures, broken teeth, lacerations to an eyelid and lip, and a concussion.

A BART Police Department internal affairs investigation zeroed in on Pianta's description, questioning his wording in light of Sheehan's extensive injuries.

"Based on video of the incident, your takedown of Sheehan was dynamic and forceful,” wrote Acting Deputy Chief Lance Haight in a 2016 memo informing Pianta he would receive a written reprimand. “Your characterization in your police report of ‘guiding’ Sheehan to the ground is an inaccurate description of what took place and appears to minimize what happened.”


Haight added that Pianta’s report violated a department policy barring officers from “making any false or misleading statement … during the course of any work-related investigation.”

The department's investigation did not sustain allegations that Pianta used excessive force against Sheehan, who sued BART and settled her case in 2016 for $1.35 million.

"I think it’s about time that the BART Police Department takes a look critically at the way their officers are writing reports," Sheehan's attorney, Lizabeth de Vries, said late Friday. "The words and descriptions and facts that officers sometimes put in their reports, like 'guiding,' are false."

BART police released details of the department's internal investigation of the case under the terms of SB 1421, the new California law requiring police agencies throughout the state to make public certain records of officer misconduct.

Sheehan, severely inebriated, had been detained at BART's Lake Merritt Station on charges of public intoxication, resisting arrest and battery on a police officer.

Pianta was not one of the arresting officers, but he was assigned to drive Sheehan to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. Sheehan urinated in Pianta's police car and, according to an account from BART filed with the court, "attempted to press her buttocks up against Officer Pianta’s leg in an attempt to transfer urine onto his pants" as they walked into the jail.

While at the jail's booking desk, Sheehan threw a hairband at Pianta, striking him in the hat. The two began to scuffle when Pianta ordered Sheehan not to go through her purse. Witnesses — including several Oakland police officers — said Sheehan attempted to punch Pianta.

The account BART filed in its court papers parroted Pianta's misleading description of what happened next.

“Acting in self-defense, the officer used an arm bar takedown and guided plaintiff to the ground,” a Nov. 20, 2014, filing in the case says. “Moments later the officer observed blood coming from plaintiff’s facial area and medical assistance was requested.”

The internal investigation into Pianta was paused during the lawsuit, according to the records released Friday. Pianta was served with a written reprimand on Sept. 29, 2016, about four months after BART settled the lawsuit and more than two years after Sheehan was injured.

Sheehan was taken to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, where she was interviewed the night of the incident by BART police Sgt. Steve Szopinski, the newly released documents say.

Szopinski activated his body camera during the interview, and BART's report quotes Sheehan as telling him, "... This is fucked up. They like knocked my teeth (inaudible) — my teeth are missing — I’m missing two teeth.”

After Szopinski asked whether Sheehan wanted to tell him what happened, she said, “I know that I fucked up. ... I probably mouthed off or like, you know, took a swing or like did something stupid. ... I just didn’t know I would get this much of a fucking backlash.”

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said Friday that Pianta remains on the police force.

This story was produced as part of the California Reporting Project, a collaboration of more than 30 newsrooms across the state to obtain and report on police misconduct and serious use-of-force records unsealed in 2019.

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