Man roughed up during BART arrest might have been wrongly targeted by police

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

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

A man was tackled and arrested by BART police at the Powell Street station last weekend in what might be a case of mistaken identity.

About 6:55 p.m. Sunday, BART police received a report that a female patron had been grabbed and hit by a male panhandler when she refused to give him money, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said. The victim reportedly described the suspect as a black male who was wearing all-black clothing.

However, when officers arrived on the platform, they approached another black male who was wearing a light-gray jacket and jeans. BART police said the man tried to walk away when they approached him.

Officers subsequently hit the man, knocking him backward, then tackled him and took him into custody.

The victim, according to Trost, could not positively identify the man BART police detained, but he was arrested anyway.

He was booked into County Jail on a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest. Trost said victims are sometimes unable to positively identify their assailants, but could not specifically address this incident.

However, the attorney representing the man who was arrested had a different take on the incident.

“It seems to me that this was clearly a wrongful detention because he didn't even match the description,” said attorney Rachel Lederman, who often works on police misconduct cases. She asked that the arrestee's name not be released because he is fearful of retaliation.

“Understandably, he's scared to take BART now,” Lederman said.

Under California law, resisting arrest is defined as willfully resisting, delaying or otherwise obstructing a law enforcement officer or emergency medical technician while he or she is performing or attempting to perform his or her job.

Lederman questioned the validity of the arrest.

“The officer has to be resisted or delayed in the lawful performance of his duties,” Lederman said. “If they're engaged in racial profiling or harassment, that's not within their lawful duties.”

Bay Area civil-rights attorney John Burris, who is not representing the arrestee but spoke based on his knowledge of police misconduct cases, said, “This is the kind of thing I preach against all the time. It is one of the areas that is most disturbing to me because I know how these charges affect people's lives.”

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