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Man detained for eating sandwich on BART platform sues

Frame grabs from a viral Twitter video show BART police detaining Steve Foster of Concord, who was initially cited for eating a sandwich on a station platform. BART said its Independent Police Auditor is investigating the incident. Foster is preparing to sue the transit district. (Images by @ToneOliver/Twitter)

A Concord man who was detained for eating a sandwich on the platform of BART’s Pleasant Hill station this month has filed a claim against the transit agency alleging that he was racially profiled.

Steve Foster, 31, alleges in the claim that BART officers selectively detained him based on his race in the incident on the platform at 8 a.m. on Nov. 4 as he waited for a train to take him to his job as a tech operator in San Francisco.

A video of the incident posted on Twitter by @ToneOliver went viral and has been viewed more than 330,000 times.

Speaking at a news conference at the office of his attorney John Burris, Foster, who is black, said he had bought a sandwich at a cafe at the Pleasant Hill station and was eating it on the platform when BART Officer David McCormick suddenly confronted him and told him, “You can’t eat on BART.” Foster said of McCormick, who is white, “You could see he already wanted to put me in handcuffs.”

Burris said McCormick and other BART officers ultimately handcuffed Foster for an hour and called him names before they cited him for eating at the station and released him.

Burris said Foster “was humiliated, embarrassed and disrespected and seemed to be singled out.”

BART has a policy of not allowing people to eat on its platforms or trains, but Burris said that policy is not well-marked and is rarely enforced.

Because of that, Burris said he believes “there was an undercurrent of a racial component” to the incident.

Burris said Foster was almost finished eating his sandwich and McCormick could have just told him to quickly finish it but instead escalated the situation into a confrontation.

Foster said he frequently buys a sandwich at the cafe at the Pleasant Hill station and eats it on the platform before he boards his train and said he had never previously been warned by BART police not to eat at the station.

Foster said he knows passengers aren’t supposed to eat on BART trains but was not aware that they also aren’t allowed to eat on the transit agency’s platforms.

Foster said, “I felt I was disrespected and singled out” when he was detained.

Burris, who frequently files lawsuits against law enforcement agencies accusing them of misconduct, said the incident “was a small matter but an important matter in which there was disrespect for an African American man.”

Burris said the claim is the precursor to a lawsuit that he will file on Foster’s behalf against BART. The claim does not seek a specific amount of damages but says the total is more than $25,000.

BART said in a statement that it “will not comment on a future lawsuit.”

Earlier, BART General Manager Bob Powers said that the transit agency’s Independent Police Auditor is investigating the case and will report findings to the agency’s Citizen Review Board.

Powers said Officer McCormick asked Foster not to eat and decided to move forward with a citation when Foster continued to do so.

Powers also said Foster refused to provide identification and used homophobic slurs during the confrontation.

Powers expressed disappointment about the way in which the interaction unfolded, but said that eating in BART stations creates a concern for station cleanliness and is a violation of state law.

Regardless of whether the officer was acting within the letter of the law, the interaction has prompted questions about BART police enforcement priorities. Activists have posted images of “eat in” protests, in which they ate food inside a BART station as an act of solidarity, using hashtags like #EATonBART or #brunchonBART.

Another such protest — called “Eat a breakfast sandwich on BART” — was promoted on Facebook. More than 45 social media users had indicated they planned to participate.

“I take BART every weekday and I am sick of the criminal behavior, the blunt smoking on platforms, the meth smoking on trains, the unchecked aggressive behavior from people suffering mental illness,” event organizer Elliott Smith said in a message.

“BART has real safety problems that need to be addressed,” he added. “Sandwich eating is not one of them.”