BART officials say investigation is underway in police struggle that led to charges

(Photo courtesy San Francisco Public Defender's Office)

BART officials today said an internal affairs investigation is underway in connection with a confrontation between police and a man and woman in San Francisco’s Embarcadero station this summer that led to criminal charges being filed.

Michael Smith, 22, was acquitted last week of four counts of misdemeanor battery on a police officer in connection with the July 29 incident, but the jury hung on two other counts of battery on a police officer, one count of resisting arrest and a lesser charge of simple battery.

Prosecutors could still choose to retry the case.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who chose to handle the case personally, said today at a press conference that charges should to be dropped and the case used as a spur for police reform. Adachi has pointed to the case as an example of racial bias in policing, with officers overreacting to a false report of a black man armed with a gun.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said that the agency is working to complete an investigation into the incident, in which officers responded to a 911 call from a victim who claimed that a man on a train had threatened to rob him and might be armed.

“When officers responded, the adult male was not cooperative while the adult female was,” Trost said. “Body cameras on the officers show the adult male bit, kicked, and spat on officers while resisting arrest.”

Adachi has said Smith and his girlfriend, who was pregnant at the time, were involved in a racially tinged verbal confrontation on the train with a white passenger. They were trying to get away from the man, who accused the woman of smelling bad, when they exited the train at Embarcadero Station and were immediately confronted by officers with drawn weapons.

During the subsequent struggle, bystander videos showed officers struggling with Smith and punching him in the head while he was pinned on his stomach. Adachi has said Smith was trying to protect his girlfriend, who was pinned on her stomach with an officer’s knee in her back.

Both Adachi and BART today released video footage of the incident, which was captured by surveillance and bystander cameras as well as officer body cameras.

Adachi argued in court that BART police failed to follow their own policy in their handling of a pregnant woman, but Trost said policy only calls for police to restrain those known to be pregnant “in the least restrictive manner that is effective to officer safety.”

“In this case, it was not clear or known if the female was pregnant,” Trost said in a statement. “She was not visibly showing.”

After the woman said she was pregnant, Trost said body cameras show the officer “treated her with respect, stood her up in a comfortable position almost immediately, moved her away from possible injury that could occur, and asked about her wellbeing or if she needed medical attention, which she declined.”

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