BART police brawl with teenage girls in Powell BART station

Witnesses accuse one officer of escalating conflict, while praising another for keeping calm.

BART police officers are under fire on social media after a brief brawl with teenage girls at the Powell BART station Monday night.

All told, one 15-year-old girl was booked on suspicion of resisting arrest, and resisting an “executive officer” of the law, a potential felony, and booked into San Francisco juvenile hall. A 13-year-old girl was taken to the Hayward Assessment Center on a no-bail juvenile warrant.

Separately, a 26-year-old man who intervened in the altercation between police and the teenage girls, Andrew Bernard, was arrested and booked into San Francisco jail on suspicion of various charges, including battery on a peace officer and resisting arrest.

Accounts of the incident differ between BART and a witness on social media, who accused a white BART Police officer of escalating conflict with the teenagers, while also praising a black BART police officer for remaining calm and handling the situation with poise.

“Funny how Black men and White men treat 16-year-old black girls so differently,” Twitter user @taywei13 wrote Monday night in a tweet.

The witness who aired her concerns on Twitter, who identified herself online as Taylor Wilkerson, did not return requests for comment. Some elements of her story were verified by BART, while others are being disputed.

Wilkerson tweeted that the white officer bodily slammed one of the teenage girls against a wall and punched her. Another Twitter user and witness, @unicornriot666 tweeted video of the aftermath, and said a BART officer “just punched a young women in the face at Powell,” adding, “I was on the platform, your officer started the struggle by aggressively going after the smallest young GIRL in the group.”

BART will not release video during active investigations, an agency spokesperson said. However BART spokesperson Alicia Trost, who said she watched video of the incident, painted a different picture of events.

Trost said one of the teenage girls was “verbally combative” and when the officer “attempted to grab her arm” to direct her out of the station, she backed up and “became physically combative and punched him in the eye.”

“The officer didn’t throw her up against the wall,” Trost said.

Monday night at Powell BART station, a rider reported to the train operator via intercom that three women were threatening to “beat her up,” according to BART. That train operator reported the incident and officers were dispatched to the scene.

When the two officers arrived, the rider pointed out the three girls who allegedly “threatened to hurt her,” according to BART. When the officers asked the girls to get off the train “to talk” they asked if they had BART tickets. One girl showed a Clipper card and the other two said they did not have tickets, according to BART.

What came next is where the stories diverge.

BART’s Office of the Independent Police Auditor may play a role in determining what exactly happened Monday night. Independent Police Auditor Russell Bloom said he’s already “beginning the process” of looking over body camera video, reading police reports and more. A formal investigation into the incident may begin at Bloom’s own discretion, or if a member of the public requests one.

While Bloom had seen some video of the incident, he said it was too early to speak about what he’s seen.

“It just isn’t definitive, what I’ve seen so far,” he said. “It would be premature to start talking about the facts of this incident.”

Civil rights attorney John Burris, who has previously tussled with BART in the courtroom, said it is crucial that BART release video of the incident in order to determine if the teenage girls were mistreated.

“The concern when a black officer sees a case one way, and a white officer sees it another way,” Burris said, “that suggests the case could’ve been handled differently, and discussion skills could have made the difference.”

Lateefah Simon, who sits on the BART board and frequently takes a leading role advocating for people of color at BART, said she needs to gather more facts before making a determination of who is at fault.

“I’m a momma, I have two kids,” a 23-year-old woman and 8-year-old girl, she said. She’s especially keen to remind people that this incident involved minors.

“We’re talking about a little girl and law enforcement,” she said. “If there’s a learning opportunity from what happened, we will respond.”

To reach out to the Office of the Independent Police Auditor at BART, members of the public can call (510)-874-7477 or by email at oipa@bart.gov.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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