Teen Hauled Off Metro Train, Cuffed for Putting Her Feet Up

Officer drags Bethany Nava off the train at Westlake/MacArthur Park for not removing her foot from the seat where it was propped up. [Image: still from video taken by Brock Bryan.]
Officer drags Bethany Nava off the train at Westlake/MacArthur Park for not removing her foot from the seat where it was propped up. [Image: still from video taken by Brock Bryan.]

“Officer, please don’t do this.”

“Officer, it’s really not a big deal.”

As he films the scene unfolding in front of him at the Westlake/MacArthur Park station, Metro passenger Brock Bryan calmly pleads with an LAPD officer to stop manhandling a young woman he dragged off the train for putting her foot up on the seat.

The officer takes a look at the squirmy teen, the people starting to gather around him to protest his tactics, and calls for backup.

Bryan continues to plead with the officer to deescalate the situation while it’s still early in the interaction: “That’s really an abuse of power, officer … Over her foot on the seat? She wasn’t blocking anyone from sitting down?”

The teen is confused and upset, arguing there is no law that says she can’t sit that way.

“It’s the rules of the train,” the officer intones.

In this, the officer is not wrong – as detailed in Metro’s Code of Conduct, putting one’s feet up constitutes Disorderly Conduct and can get someone removed from a train and cited.

But causing a scene by physically dragging a girl off a train and immediately calling for backup means that it is really unlikely that a stern talking to about why Metro considers particular behaviors a problem and a simple citation are on the table anymore.

The girl willingly gives her name but says she doesn’t have ID because she was on her way to the DMV to get one, having just turned 18. As she gets increasingly upset over the futility of her protests and those of a woman that is angrily engaging the officer in her defense, she offers her backpack and tells the officer he’ll find nothing in there that would justify her being taken to jail.

The angry bystander taunts the officer, asking him if he feels good about having yanked a teen off a train, essentially for being disrespectful.

“Why wouldn’t I be happy?” he asks.

It’s one of the many moments in the video where it is painfully obvious how things will end and exactly why they will end that way.

It should have been a point of inflection – a moment used to de-escalate the situation. A step back to say, “You know, this is becoming more complicated than it should be. Let’s go back to the beginning and the reason I first engaged you. These are the rules. These are the consequences. I don’t want to keep you from getting where you need to go. And I don’t think you want to make the trains unpleasant for others trying to get where they need to go, so let’s see if we can have a conversation about how to make things better for everyone going forward.”

Instead, the moment – like the rest of the encounter – is about the officer trying to exert his authority over the girl and the situation, which means that anything the girl (or a bystander) says or does will be perceived by the officer as noncompliance and disorderly, and even threatening, behavior. In that context, conversation is moot and the only possible resolution is the cuffing of at least one person.

As more officers arrive on the scene – a couple of them at high speed – that’s exactly what happens: both the girl and the angry woman are wrangled and cuffed.

No explanation is given to the other officers arriving on the scene, no discussion is had about whether this is the proper course of action, no final attempt is made at deescalation. Instead, it all happens almost wordlessly, incensing the already angry bystander, who now lunges and spits at the first officer before being hustled away.

The teen was later cited and released. The bystander who spit on the officer was taken to jail. [See Brock Bryan’s video below]

It’s a disturbing encounter. And it is why people of color are not necessarily reassured by the more visible presence of the LAPD on the train. Friends, acquaintances, and people I’ve interviewed regarding police encounters have all spoken of how officers have escalated stops, both as a way to intimidate the person being stopped into compliance (even if there was no reason for the stop) and to justify both the stop and the citation or arrest that is likely to follow. [See some of our coverage of profiling here, here, here, here.]

And it is also why the Labor/Community Strategy Center (LCSC) sued Metro to get access to stop data at the end of 2017. To date, the suit charges, Metro and law enforcement entities have ignored multiple requests for public records regarding policing and fare enforcement practices, breakdowns of data on those arrested, cited, and engaged by law enforcement, and the agreements and communications between Metro and law enforcement agencies regarding law enforcement’s role in policing transit. [The lawsuit can be found here (PDF); our December coverage of the 2017 lawsuit is here.]

The 2017 lawsuit is part of a continued effort to monitor the extent to which Metro is addressing the disproportionate number of citations and arrests of black and brown riders alleged in the federal civil rights complaint the LCSC filed at the end of 2016.

But it’s also part of a larger effort to get Metro to spell out who this new emphasis on safety is for, how it is being implemented, and how it is being overseen.

In the lead-up to the approval of the new $646 million policing contract between Metro, the Sheriffs, the LAPD, and the Long Beach Police Department, there was no public discussion of how the trains would be policed, of how safety was defined, or of what the expectations or mandates of officers would be.

Instead, Metro boardmembers spoke broadly of how greater visibility and saturation on transit would yield improved response times and greater security. Boardmember Ara Najarian went one step further and asked what had to be done to make law enforcement officers feel safer.

Citing the video of an off-duty officer in Anaheim wrestling with a youth, flashing his gun and then firing it to scare the kid and his friends, Najarian said,

It’s important to look at the side of the officers and the deputies – from all of your agencies. I want to make sure…that none of [the officers] feel vulnerable, alone, isolated…We’ve seen in the news…how a single police officer can be hounded by a group of young kids and feel very threatened in his actions. So, I’m hoping that we don’t create that sort of situation and that all of our [law enforcement] agencies feel supported and [have] the ability to reach out in case incidents arise.

Considering the years LASD and Metro spent clashing over what role law enforcement should play on the trains (Metro wanted the Sheriffs to focus on fare enforcement; LASD preferred to do crime suppression) and the number of complaints that racked up against the Sheriffs, the lack of effort to outline either expectations or mechanisms for oversight regarding engagement with passengers is rather stunning.

Neither the lawsuits nor the death of a young man at a train station earlier this year – crushed by a train after he was frisked by LBPD officers over fare evasion and an altercation ensued – appear to have provoked much in the way of reflection on this topic.

Perhaps the visibility of this incident will – it’s been viewed over 1.6 million times on Facebook.

When asked for comment, Metro said that the LAPD had opened a use-of-force investigation looking into the incident. Metro also made clear that it intends for the visible presence of officers throughout the system – a level that has essentially doubled under this new contract – to be what elicits voluntary compliance from with rules from riders.

However, in a statement released on January 24, Metro CEO Phil Washington said, “I am extremely disappointed. Our riders deserve better. We want the Metro system to be a safe environment for everyone. I expect more from our law enforcement partners. This incident is still under investigation, but I want to be clear: this is not the kind of policing I want on our system.”

Then, because the day is still young, a second statement was issued revising and softening the first. It is as follows:

As Metro continues to work with our partners at the Los Angeles Police Department on the investigation of a young woman being forcibly removed from a Metro subway train yesterday, I want to be clear about my position: We want our Customer Code of Conduct rules enforced, but I’m disappointed at the way the situation escalated.

As a 24-year retired U.S. Army veteran, I understand and respect our police officers and their day-to-day duty in working to keep our system safe and secure. They encounter hundreds of conduct issues each day, and some of them are faced with very difficult situations. But my hope is that we work to de-escalate situations as much as possible.

The investigation is underway to gather all the facts, and until we have the complete story, we must not rush to judgement. Meanwhile, we remain committed to enhancing safety and the overall rider experience for all of our customers, and look to our patrons to be our partners in that.

*This post was updated at 8:21 a.m. and again at 11:55 a.m. on January 24 to include Mr. Washington’s statements.

  • Neoprene55

    Or just law abiding liberals and conservative.

  • FIVE STARS

    And the foul mouthed teenage girl should also have behaved. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/uber-driver-white-privilege-drunk-11193605

  • Di

    Wow. A cursory scroll through this comment section shows that some of you have waaaaaaay too much time on your hands. Go for a hike! Knit a hat! Do something fun and calming instead of arguing with fellow trolls about a teenager.
    Yes, there are big and important issues tied up in incidents like this, many of which Sahra discusses in the article. But most of these comments bring absolutely nothing to the table. I try to occasionally read comments in order to get an idea of the “community”‘s reaction to something, but each and every time I’m reminded why that’s a terrible, terrible idea.
    Aaand this is the most time I’ll spend in a comments section myself.

  • Michael Gebert

    You’re right. And now she’ll be barred from Uber. My point exactly.

  • jenl

    She should have just taken her feet off the seat when the officer told her to do so. If she had followed the rules to begin with, he would not have had to ask her. Had she the simply taken her feet down, nothing would have escalated. She acted like a brat.

  • jenl

    She started it by having her feet up there in the first place which was breaking the rules. No one wants to sit where someone else’s shoes have been. That’s just being courteous.

  • Joe R.

    The seats are already dirty from people who don’t wipe their asses properly. I have to love all these people who act like the seats were pristine until she had her feet up on them. Incidentally, usually it’s the sides of the shoe which rest on the seat, not the sole which might have a lot more dirt. On top of that, do you think they actually clean these trains, ever?

  • WEcrowdNOTmeCROWD

    Who becomes a police officer? think about that…. people who were picked on, bullied? That would explain the drive on obtaining power. These are not the kids we describe at school age as “bright” having potential. They are the victims who couldn’t escape their torment until they gain power. The image used to thumbnail this post is a perfect snapshot of that history. There is no case that comes to mind that would justify someone with that imbalance in size to be forcibly pulling a teenage girl by her arm out of the Metro car. When you read further and understand the alarming code violation the officer desperately needed to enforce, you can clearly see who becomes a police officer.

  • WEcrowdNOTmeCROWD

    Metro Code also clearly states no eating. Do we need to quadruple our police force to forcibly remove anyone who eats as well? Think big picture, not so black/white simplistic… “there’s a rule” so nothing else matters. Just because something isn’t in your world experience, doesn’t preclude you from at least attempting to have a broader perspective.

  • WEcrowdNOTmeCROWD

    … and baby Jesus knows, we must forcibly pull by the arm with full body weight these kinds of low class teenage girls. These are horrific attempts to spread their lowclassness, but wait, why are you on the Metro again?

  • Joe Linton

    Note: Some of the comments below have been deleted because they clearly violated our policy. The fact that some unsavory comments remain is not because we condone particular sentiments, but because we do not aim to censor discussion here. This comments section is now closed.

  • Slexie

    Ha!

  • Slexie

    Oh get off your high horse. I live in AlA and the Red Line is full of people like this. HE DID ask her to put her feet down and she refused, then he told her she had to get off and she didn’t want to do that either. Now she’s trespassing. I’M GLAD this cop did his job. What a ridiculous assertion that the public should have beaten this cop. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • Joe R.

    Neither do you. I used to regularly ride the NYC subway. Compared to all the other crap you deal with while riding on a daily basis, feet on seats is at best a low-level annoyance, if that. It seems people nowadays want their entire lives to be perfect, with nobody doing anything inconsiderate or offensive. These are the people who should deal with it. When you’re in public spaces, you’re going to have deal with all sorts of people. Get used to it, or stay in your house all the time. I don’t want police enforcing good manners because sooner or later this means they’ll bother you or I about something. That’s how police states evolve. The police are there for one reason—to get dangerous criminals off the streets. That’s what I want them doing 100% of the time.

    If someone does something offensive on public transit, sooner or later they will hear it from fellow passengers. I’m sure if someone wanted to sit there, they would have told this girl in no uncertain terms to get her feet off the seat. Since that wasn’t the case, apparently she wasn’t doing anything to offend her fellow passengers, and the cop should have moved on. Sooner or later he’ll find plenty of other things more worthy of enforcement, like pick pockets or people exposing themselves. He won’t get any objection from me when he enforces those crimes.

  • Joe R.

    In all fairness, some percentage of people who become police officers really do want to do good and make the world a safer place. Unfortunately, most eventually become jaded from a system which keeps them from doing that, then either leave the force, or end up like the cop in that video. That said, you’re probably right about the majority who become police. They’re compensating for a childhood where they felt powerless.

  • Vooch

    you might be happier living in North Korea.

  • Vooch

    not any more – it’s mostly misfits brutalized in the military and trained to think of Americans as the enemy.

  • Vooch

    ‘order’ ?

    You mean like in Stalin’s time ?

  • Vooch

    Imagine if this had been privately hired security; the situation would have been resolved prlescefully without incident; because private security are NOT trained to treat their customers like the enemy.

  • Vooch

    the costumed thug failed in the most basic skills of his employment.

  • Vooch

    exactly – That’s the Andy Griffith way of a Peace Officer.

    This clown was Barney Fife

  • calwatch

    No, it’s still open.

  • FIVE STARS

    Let’s start by addressing Sahra’s inaccurate and misleading title of this piece. This misinformation steers many of the comments.

  • FIVE STARS

    Is there a point somewhere in there?

  • John Stesney

    There are bad cops out there, and even the good ones are generally ignorant about bike law, so I am not a “law and order” type. Nonetheless, I think the cop handled the situation a lot better than the young lady did. Enforcement is premised on escalation. If you won’t behave, someone is going to make you. Cops do this, wherever, whenever, and as a matter of survival, they don’t take crap. If a cop tells you to behave, and you tell them to get lost, you have escalated the situation, and a cop’s job is to out-escalate you. The young lady could have merely received a ticket, but if you don’t have an ID, that avenue is closed, since you can just give false information, and the cops know that. A motivated/mean cop could have gotten her a record for resisting arrest. Instead, she just got kicked off the train. Despite the caterwauling of the armchair revolutionaries, you’d see the same outcome in France, Germany, etc.

  • Slexie

    Wrong. The NY subway is nothing like the LA subway or LA public transit. In NY, you have all income levels that use the subway all day every day. It’s not like that here. Most people will avoid public transit at all costs here. There is a driving option that is just not practical in NY that we have here. Public transit here is mostly the poor, students, and immigrants.
    Your assessment that someone will say something to another breaking the rules on the subway simply is not going to happen. We are talking about people who stand right in front of the door and don’t let the exiting passengers get off the car before they get on. Until recently, there was no cell phone reception on the platform and never have I seen police of security guards down there. The cars themselves have an emergency call button, but your issue still won’t get addressed until the next stop. And like I said, I’ve never seen any police on the platform, so you’d have to run up to the top to find anyone or use your phone. The conductor/driver will come to see what’s up, and they can call someone once they get over to where you are if you need help. My point is that security has been very lax on the Red Line and that’s why people don’t use it.
    This cop is doing his job. She had ample opportunity to end the conflict, but she CHOSE not to do that. He’s not going to just “move on”, or the rules mean nothing. Cops don’t make the rules, they only enforce them.

  • Allison Blanchette

    People sitting with poopy shoes on the seat are as annoying as manspreading.

  • Joe R.

    I’d rather the cop look for things which can actually potentially harm passengers. The response here was disproportionate to the offense, like using a nuclear bomb to kill a few errant soldiers. Metro can have something like security guards going around for the petty stuff like this. Those guards would be empowered to issue tickets only, not arrest people. Save the police for the situations which really warrant using them, like the examples I gave. My bigger worry here is what if a serious crime occurred elsewhere on the system while that detail of cops was in the station?

  • dexter

    I wasn’t trying to be profound. I was trying to make sense. I suggest you give it a try sometime.

  • Michael Gebert

    Try harder.

  • Slexie

    Hopefully someone decided NOT to commit a crime because they saw how serious the police are on the Red Line. You’re offended? What about the people surrounding the cop? Cursing and screaming at him, calling him all kinds of names, that’s ok? The girl throwing down her backpack at him and yelling and cursing him out? That was unnessary and I almost burst out laughing when that tall girl was arrested too. She was so bold being a total jerk to that cop. At least she didn’t commit any other crimes that day.

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