Black man sues BART police for alleged racial profiling

S.F. Examiner file photoBART Police are conducting an internal affairs investigation into the arrest of Albert James Burleson

A black man who was tackled and arrested by BART police at Powell station in August is now suing BART, alleging federal civil rights violations.

“This is a civil rights complaint arising from BART Police racial profiling, brutality, and wrongful arrest and imprisonment of plaintiff Albert James Burleson,” the complaint reads.

BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said the agency has yet to be served, and therefore could not yet comment on the suit.

The suit not only comes after mass protests against police policies nationwide, but after extensive reforms of the BART Police Department in the wake of the 2009 officer-involved death of Oscar Grant III at Fruitvale station, a black man shot by a white police officer.

This suit may be a test for those reforms.

The complaint arises from BART Police Department's arrest of Burleson, the plaintiff, alleging police arrested him after mistaking him for a suspect, because both he and the suspect they were looking for are black.

On Aug. 17 at 6:55 p.m., BART officers were searching for a panhandler who accosted a woman at Powell station. She said he was a black man wearing a black shirt and black pants, and was bald.

Burleson was waiting for a train when he alleges Office Darnell Bussey told him he matched the description of the panhandler.

But Burleson was neatly dressed in a red shirt, grey jacket, and light brown dress shoes. He also has hair on his head.

Bussey grabbed Burleson, according to the suit, knocking him off balance and pulling him towards the tracks. Burleson took a step back to avoid falling on the platform. Bussey then pushed him against a wall.

“What the f— is your problem man?” Burleson shouted as he was grappled to the ground, according to a witness.

An off-duty Oakland Police Officer, Brenton Lowe, and a retired Oakland Police Officer, Frank Lowe, assisted Bussey, Officer Myron Lee, and one unidentified officer in tackling Burleson to the ground. The suit alleges both officers named Lowe pressed their knees into Burleson's neck and back.

The officers took Burleson upstairs to the BART Police substation, at Powell.

“Once [Burleson] was in the police substation, Bussey apologized, telling plaintiff they had made a mistake,” the suit reads. But when Burleson threatened to file a complaint, Bussey told him he was under arrest.

Later, the woman who was accosted by the panhandler verified to BART Police that Burleson was not her attacker, and did not match the description she gave, the suit says.

Despite this, Burleson spent the night in San Francisco county jail, and was released at 5 a.m. the next day.

BART Police are also conducting an ongoing internal affairs investigation into the arrest.

All of the officers involved are named in the lawsuit, as well as BART itself, and Chief Kenton Rainey.

Neither Rainey nor his deputy chief, Jeffrey Jennings, responded to requests for comment.

When the incident first broke, Jennings told The Examiner, “There appeared to be enough information to talk to the person and that person turned the conversation into a lawful detention, and eventually he was arrested based on his actions.”

Burleson's attorney disagrees.

“He sees those same BART officers during his daily commute,” his attorney, Rachel Lederman, wrote in an email to The Examiner. “My client was singled out as a black man, and he is very nervous about that happening again.”

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