BART Officers Detain, Handcuff and Cite Man Spotted Eating Sandwich on Platform

A BART officer detains man on Pleasant Hill Station platform for eating, an apparently infrequently enforced violation of state law.  ('Bill Gluckman' via Facebook)

Update, 3:45 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11: BART's top official, General Manager Robert Powers, issued a public apology Monday to a man detained and handcuffed last week after one of the transit agency's police officers spotted him eating a sandwich on a train platform.

The Nov. 4 incident sparked a social media backlash against BART and prompted at least one "eat-in" protest in response.

Powers said in his statement that although eating in BART's paid areas is banned that he was "disappointed" in how the encounter between Officer D. McCormick and passenger Steve Foster unfolded.

"The officer was doing his job but context is key," Powers' statement said. "Enforcement of infractions such as eating and drinking inside our paid area should not be used to prevent us from delivering on our mission to provide safe, reliable, and clean transportation. We have to read each situation and allow people to get where they are going on time and safely. ... I apologize to Mr. Foster, our riders, employees, and the public who have had an emotional reaction to the video.

Original post, updated 12:40 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10

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BART says it's looking into an incident earlier this week in which a man was detained and handcuffed after a transit agency police officer spotted him eating a breakfast sandwich.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said videos of the incident, which occurred about 8 a.m. Monday on the platform of the Pleasant Hill Station, has been forwarded to the agency's independent police auditor for review.

One video, posted Friday to Facebook and Twitter, shows the sandwich-eating man, who appears to be African American, protesting that he had been singled out by the BART police officer, who appears to be white.

Videos of the incident first appeared on the Facebook account of "Bill Gluckman" — an apparent pseudonym. At one point in the video, the man gives his first name as "Steve." The principal officer in the case, identified by his nameplate as D. McCormick, later refers to the man as "Mr. Foster."

The platform video begins after McCormick had made contact with the man. California law makes it an infraction to eat or drink "in or on a (transit) system facility or vehicle in areas where those activities are prohibited by that system."

"You're eating," the officer says, restraining the man by holding his backpack. "So what?" the man replies. "It's against the law. ... It's a violation of California law. I have the right to detain you," the officer says. "No you don't," the man responds. "Can you please let my backpack go?" A moment later, the officer calls for backup and tells the man he's "going to jail" for resisting arrest.

The longer version of the footage, on Facebook, shows the dispute continuing for more than seven minutes before other officers arrive. At one point, after McCormick had asked for the man's name, the man bursts out with a series of homophobic slurs.

"I've missed two trains because of your old faggot ass," he says. "You f___in' fag. Ask your mama what my name is, that's what you can do."

Eventually, three more officers arrive on the scene. One handcuffs the man and leads him from the platform.

In a second video, McCormick explains to a woman who was apparently accompanying the man that he had gone to the platform because of a report of a possibly intoxicated woman. While walking down the platform, he said, he encountered the man eating the sandwich.

"So you decided to forget about the bitch that's drunk and wanted to f__k with him for eating a sandwich?" the woman asks. "... So you decided to turn and focus on the black guy eating a sandwich?"

"He was directly in front of me, and I simply asked him, 'Hey, there's no eating on BART,' " McCormick says.

BART said in a tweet that "no matter how you feel about eating on BART, the officer saw someone eating and asked him to stop, when he didn't he was given a citation." The agency said the man was handcuffed after he initially refused to provide his name.

Trost said the man was cited for an alleged violation of state penal code section 640(b)(1), which allows transit agencies to prohibit eating or drinking on trains and in stations. The maximum penalty for a first-time violation is $250 or 48 hours of community service.

BART's independent police auditor, Russell Bloom, said his office is collecting evidence on the incident before deciding whether to launch a formal investigation. The evidence includes video from social media and footage from cameras at the station and officers' body cameras.

Although frequent BART patrons can testify that eating and drinking on trains and station platforms is an everyday occurrence, citations for eating or drinking in the system's paid areas appear to be exceedingly rare. Trost said it would take a California Public Records Act request to produce a number of cited eating or drinking offenses, but added "we do enforce and if an officer sees someone eating they issue a citation."

An SFGATE inquiry into the issue a couple of years ago found that the agency issued 11 eating/drinking citations in the final nine months of 2016, equivalent to one every 8 million rides.