The suit, filed Friday against BART, follows the murder of an 18-year-old earlier this month.
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OAKLAND — In at least the fifth lawsuit in 16 months, an East Bay man is alleging BART failed to keep him safe when he was assaulted and robbed on a train in November.
The suit follows two others filed in September and June over an April 22 incident at the Oakland Coliseum station when a group of young people rushed a train, robbing and assaulting several passengers. The agency is also facing two more lawsuits, filed in March 2017 and January, for two separate incidents involving armed robberies. And, it comes less than a week after the stabbing death of 18-year-old Nia Wilson at the MacArthur station.
For Stanley Goff, the attorney representing Dave Sibia in the suit filed Friday in Alameda County Superior Court, the connections between each incident are unmistakable.
“The word is out,” Goff said. “Any would-be criminal knows, it’s a free for all on BART to rob people, to kill people, to assault people. What’s next?”
Jim Allison, a spokesman for BART, said Monday the agency had not yet been served with the suit and declined to comment further. It seeks unspecified damages against the transit agency.
It had been decades since Sibia had last ridden on BART. He had just finished working as an Uber driver on Nov. 24, 2017, when he dropped off his car for service and boarded a Richmond-bound train at the Fremont station, he said. He was sitting on the train and noticed a man enter his train car. He was pacing back and forth and eyeing Sibia, he said.
“I got really suspicious, like, ‘Why did he keep looking at me?ʼ” Sibia recalled. “I thought something was going to happen.”
So, he tucked his phone under his armpit to keep it safe. The man looked like he was about to get off at the Fruitvale station when he suddenly turned around, Sibia said, and pushed him down to the ground. Sibia held onto his phone as the man tried to pry it away, twisting Sibia’s wrist and straining his arm and his shoulder.
Sibia caught a glimpse of a revolver in the man’s waist, and let go. The assailant slipped out just as the train doors closed behind him, he said.
“When I saw the revolver, I was scared to death,” Sibia said. “I thought I was going to die.”
There were no police officers present, but another passenger called 911 to report the incident, he said. No one arrived. So, Sibia filed the report when he arrived at the El Cerrito del Norte station, where he had planned to get off.
Sibia was later diagnosed with a torn tendon and a pinched nerve in his shoulder. The injury has led to neck pain, he said, which makes it difficult for him to continue driving for work. But, he’s grateful he’s alive, he said.
“What are they going to tell the family of those two girls — one who is dead and one who is in the hospital? They cannot bring her back,” Sibia said. “There is no security for us.”
The fact that BART has been served with several lawsuits indicates it knew it had to do more to keep its patrons safe, said Paul Justi, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the four other suits against the agency. The most recent alleges a pattern of criminal behavior that was both predictable and preventable.
Kathryn Cissney was standing on the Oakland Coliseum station platform on April 22, 2017, when a large group of roughly 50 young people jumped the fare gates and rushed the station, surrounded and beat her, and stole her cell phone. She filed the suit against BART on June 4.
It was the second suit filed over the same incident. Rusty Stapp, along with his wife and daughter, filed the first suit in September. They were on the train passing through the station and sat helpless as the group pounded on the train windows and flooded the train car, robbing and assaulting them. Stapp told reporters at a September press conference, “It’s the closest I’ve ever been to feeling like I might die.”
A month earlier, on March 20, 2017, Daniel Mendez, a professional DJ carrying all his gear, was on his way to the airport for a gig in Florida when a group of young people and at least two adults surrounded him. Mendez could see the outline of a gun in one of the man’s pockets and “sat in mortal terror for his life for several minutes,” expecting to be robbed, according to court documents.
When the train passed through the Coliseum station, the man with the gun ordered the others to “grab his stuff,” and they took his laptop and phone and ran.
But, before any of those events occurred, Justi in March of last year had filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of a 12-year-old child who was robbed at gunpoint at the El Cerrito del Norte station in 2016. The robber, who was never arrested, pressed the gun into the boy’s waist and ordered him to stand in a stairwell where surveillance cameras don’t point. BART released a composite sketch of the suspect internally, but never distributed the image publicly, the suit alleges.
In each of those cases, BART has argued it is not responsible for the safety of its passengers, Justi said.
“And, I think they’re clearly wrong,” he said.
BART should have learned from those crimes and provided better security, Goff said. The agency has hired 18 police officers in the past 18 months, but still has 25 officer vacancies, BART police Deputy Chief Ed Alvarez said last week. At any given time, there are 30 to 35 officers patrolling all 48 stations and 122 miles of tracks, he said.
Aggravated assaults were up 28 percent for the first six months of the year, compared to the same time period last year, according to BART.
“To me, that makes BART liable for negligence,” Goff said. “The more people get away with this kind of criminal activity, the more it emboldens even more criminals.”
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