Steve Foster, who was arrested Nov. 4 for eating a sandwich on a BART station platform, has filed a lawsuit against the transit agency, alleging racial profiling.
Foster was heading to his job that day and said he always gets something to eat before his morning commute. A police officer approached him and told him that he couldn’t eat on BART. Foster, however, told the officer that he was going to finish his sandwich before he got on the train. When Foster grabbed his backpack to leave, the officer told him he was detained and couldn’t leave.
“I didn’t think it was that serious,” Foster said, stating he initially thought the officer was joking.
A few minutes later, three additional BART police officers arrived at the scene, put Foster in handcuffs and escorted him down the platform. Foster alleges that the officers were very angry at him and even called him an “idiot” and “stupid.”
The lawsuit claims that officers don’t usually enforce the “no eating” rule at BART stations, and that the Pleasant Hill station doesn’t have proper signage to inform riders eating isn’t allowed.
John Burris, Foster’s lawyer, said that the officers engaged in racial profiling and selective law enforcement, as other BART riders frequently eat food on the platform without any issues.
“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.
Burris also argues that the Pleasant Hill BART station has a cafe where food and beverages are sold on the first floor of the station. There aren’t any tables or chairs for customers to sit and eat their food and no signs to not eat in the area.
The incident sparked outrage among other transit riders in the area. Video footage of the encounter even got more than 4 million views on Facebook and Twitter. Many people believed it was a racially motivated case of an officer enforcing a little known rule.
BART’s general manager Bob Powers issued a public apology Foster regarding the incident.
“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,” he said.