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Metro CEO ‘extremely disappointed’ by LAPD treatment of woman pulled from subway train

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 01, 2016 - Passengers fill the platform of the Metro Red and Purple Line
The chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Wednesday that he was “extremely disappointed” by the treatment of a young woman who was detained by an LAPD sergeant who pulled her off a train.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Wednesday said he was “extremely disappointed” by a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant’s treatment of a young woman who was pulled from a subway train and detained because she refused to take her foot off a seat.

“Our riders deserve better,” Phil Washington said in a statement. “We want the Metro system to be a safe environment for everyone. I expect more from our law enforcement partners.”

Bystander video (Warning: Video contains explicit language) of the incident was posted to Facebook on Monday and follows a recent police crackdown on code-of-conduct violations on trains. Such violations include eating, drinking, vaping, gambling, littering and placing feet or shoes on seats.

The LAPD began a use-of-force investigation Monday after receiving a complaint about the incident at the Westlake/MacArthur Park station, Deputy Chief Bob Green said. Two women were detained in the incident.

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“This investigation is still under investigation, but I want to be clear: This is not the kind of policing I want in our system,” Washington said.

The Metro system is patrolled by multiple agencies, including the LAPD, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Long Beach Police Department and Metro security personnel, the transit agency said.

On Wednesday, Luis Carrillo, an attorney representing the young woman, Bethany Nava, said, “The sergeant’s behavior is totally unacceptable.” He said that Nava’s feet had been tucked under her body and that the lawman’s actions were disproportionate to what happened. The sergeant escalated the situation unnecessarily, he said.

“He dragged her off the train,” Carrillo said. “He is a sergeant meant to be training young officers, and he needs to be training himself. He should be behind a desk, not on the train.”

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The confrontation this week began when the LAPD sergeant approached Nava about having her foot up on a seat.

An LAPD source said that the sergeant had asked Nava to remove her foot earlier and that she had done so, but that he returned and her foot was back up.

The video shows him telling her to get off the train. After she refused, he grabbed her arm and pulled her off as she clung to a railing. She complained that the lawman wasn’t allowing her to get her cellphone and other belongings.

Once off the train, the sergeant held Nava’s arms behind her back. People in the station gathered around, and an onlooker video-recorded the entire encounter.

When people protested, saying the woman was only 18, he responded, “I don’t care.”

Onlookers swore at the sergeant, telling him he was engaging in an “abuse of power.” Nava swore at him too.

He kept asking her for identification. She said she had been on her way to the Department of Motor Vehicles to meet her mother and get an ID because she had just turned 18.

“This is not … fair that you took me off the train because I had my foot there because I was comfortable like that,” Nava said. “There is no law that tells me that I cannot sit that way because I paid to be in there.”

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“It’s the rules of the train,” he told her.

A second woman approached and began yelling at the sergeant, telling him he was “high on power right now because people are watching you.” The sergeant called for backup, and at least six additional officers arrived.

As both women were being detained, the second woman — not Nava — spat at one of the officers.

Nava was cited for loud and boisterous conduct on a train and released, while the second woman was arrested on suspicion of battery of a police officer, Green said.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League said the sergeant was doing his job. “It’s clear that the suspect involved needs to take a class on manners and how to properly respond to a reasonable request from a police officer,” said the union that represents rank-and-file officers. “Acting belligerently when being given the simple request to take your foot off a seat shows a complete lack of courtesy for the basic norms of society.”

The union questioned the MTA CEO’s decision to criticize “an officer for enforcing its rules before seeing all the evidence.” “We deserve better than a rush to judgment and being thrown under an MTA train by the knee jerk reactions of Mr. Washington.”

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, speaking to ABC-TV Channel 7 on Wednesday, said the department has multiple videos to review.

“Let’s not rush to judgment based on a snippet of video,” he said.

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When asked about the incident at an unrelated event in North Hollywood on Tuesday evening, Mayor Eric Garcetti said investigators are reviewing multiple videos of what happened.

“Videos can sometimes tell one picture,” he said. “We’ll have the videos that the officers had as well as the videos that were made.”

He said he expects courtesy from riders, as well as law enforcement officers, on the trains.

“I hope we can all do what is courteous, and that means abiding by the ridership rules and just making sure that somebody can sit — because having your feet up on the chair denies them,” he said. “And vice versa, that police officers use whatever is the lowest level of de-escalation. That’s my general philosophy.”

The 28-page Metro Customer Code of Conduct lists all infractions on public transport vehicles, as well as their penalties. The punishment for placing feet or shoes on a vehicle includes a warning or ejection from the bus or train.

Hours after releasing his initial statement on the incident Wednesday morning, Washington clarified his view of the incident in comments posted to Metro’s website:

“I want to be clear about my position: We want our Customer Code of Conduct rules enforced, but I’m disappointed at the way the situation escalated. As a 24-year retired U.S. Army veteran, I understand and respect our police officers and their day-to-day duty in working to keep our system safe and secure. They encounter hundreds of conduct issues each day, and some of them are faced with very difficult situations. But my hope is that we work to de-escalate situations as much as possible.”

Times staff writers Doug Smith and Laura J. Nelson contributed to this report.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

Twitter: @haileybranson

richard.winton@latimes.com

Twitter: @lacrimes


UPDATES:

5:35 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from the police union.

12:15 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from Washington.

11:40 a.m. This article was updated with statements from Luis Carrillo, the woman’s attorney, and an LAPD source, as well as Chief Charlie Beck.

This article was originally published at 8:30 a.m.


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