OAKLAND — The man arrested for eating a sandwich on a BART station platform last week has announced plans to file a civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against the transit agency, alleging that its officers engaged in racial profiling and selective law enforcement.
A video of the man, Steve Foster, eating a sandwich while being questioned by BART police at the Pleasant Hill station went viral over the weekend, angering riders and prompting an “eat in” protest at BART stations on Saturday. Foster claims that officers were clearly angry and yelled at him even calling him an “idiot” and “stupid,” according to a statement from his attorney.
The lawsuit, which will be filed Wednesday by the law offices of well-known Bay Area civil rights attorney John Burris, will allege that officers do not typically enforce the “no eating” rule at BART stations, and that the Pleasant Hill station itself lacks signage to tell riders that eating isn’t allowed.
Burris said in a statement that officers engaged in racial profiling, and selective law enforcement as other BART riders routinely eat food on the platform without intervention.
“This is a case in which the officers should have exercised common sense and de-escalation. Unfortunately, Mr. Foster had to be embarrassed, humiliated, and handcuffed for doing something that everyone does on the platform every day,” Burris said.
Foster was detained, cited and released. As a result of the incident, Foster missed work and experienced emotional distress and humiliation, his attorney said.
BART’s top official, general manager Bob Powers, issued a public apology to Foster on Monday.
“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,” Powers said in the statement.
Videos of the Nov. 4 encounter have garnered more than 4 million views on Facebook and Twitter since they were posted Friday. The footage shows Foster being questioned by police, while he’s eating a sandwich on the platform. Foster tells officers that he was singled out, but the police officer in the video tells him “you’re eating…it’s against law.”
The incident spawned outrage among other Bay Area transit riders, many of whom saw it as a racially motivated case of an overzealous officer enforcing a little-known rule. Foster is black; the officer who arrested him is white.
Staff Writers Nico Savidge and Fiona Kelliher contributed to this story.
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