BART Says It's Sorry About Detaining Man for Eating — But He's Not Buying Apology

BART Officer D. McCormick detains Concord resident Steve Foster at Pleasant Hill Station platform for eating, an infrequently enforced violation of state law. (Steve Foster via Facebook)

BART's top official issued a public apology Monday to a man handcuffed last week after a transit agency police officer confronted him for eating a sandwich on a station platform — an apology the agency was later forced to modify and one which the detained man is criticizing as an attempt to blame the incident on him.

The Nov. 4 incident at BART's Pleasant Hill Station, posted on Facebook on Friday, sparked a social media backlash against the agency and prompted at least one "eat-in" protest in response.

BART General Manager Bob Powers said in a written statement that although eating in BART's paid areas is banned, 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."

Powers' apology initially said that McCormick asked Foster to stop eating "while passing by on another call. It should have ended there, but it didn’t. When the officer walked by again and still saw him eating, he moved forward with the process of issuing him a citation."

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BART later corrected Powers' statement to clarify that McCormick did not pass by Foster and then return but instead approached Foster about not eating when he first encountered him. "Mr. Foster did not stop eating and the officer moved forward with the process of issuing him a citation," the corrected statement said.

"I read that apology, and I wasn't feeling it at all," Foster, 31, of Concord, said in an interview Monday. He said BART had not contacted him since the incident and that he would "probably have felt a little better about it and known they were genuine" if the agency had reached out.

Foster said he felt the statement was an attempt "to make the story seem like I was the one that was actually in the wrong and I was just uncooperative from the jump, and it wasn't like that."

Foster, who is African American, suggested that he'd been singled out for attention by McCormick, who is white.

McCormick "just came straight up to me and got in my face and told me I couldn't eat on BART," Foster said, describing the officer's approach as "aggressive."

In its statement, BART noted, as other have, that video of the incident shows Foster directing a string of homophobic slurs at McCormick.

"I've missed two trains because of your old f____t ass," Foster says in the video. "You f____n' f_g. Ask your mama what my name is, that's what you can do."

On Monday, Foster said he's gotten some "backlash" about those comments, but was unapologetic.

"I'm not going to take back what I said. I said what I said. I meant what I said. I mean, I was angry," he said. "I felt disrespected and I felt I needed to disrespect him in every shape, form or fashion I could because I felt I was being singled out."

Foster's citation for eating on the platform carries a maximum fine of $250 or 48 hours of community service.

BART's independent police auditor, Russell Bloom, said Friday 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, it appears to be rare for the prohibition on dining and snacking to be enforced.

BART spokespeople say they don't have current statistics on eating and drinking citations, but a 2017 SFGATE inquiry into the issue found that the agency issued 11 eating/drinking tickets in the final nine months of 2016. That was equivalent to one every 8 million rides.