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.

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

  1. Well, I guess you all have got some good news. The reason my link doesn’t work is Metro removed that tweet and statement and put up a new one that is probably much more to your satisfaction. Wish I had screen shot the first one.

  2. Judging from the amount of dumbasses in the comment section, it’s clear that Streetsblog is a site where Conservative come together to justify little girls of color being hauled off Metro trains.

  3. There’s an intermediate solution known as writing a ticket. In this case, since her behavior wasn’t affecting other passengers, he shouldn’t have even asked her to take her feet off the seat. The cop started it all by asking her to put her feet down. And before you say rules are rules, many rules exist only because some behavior is inappropriate some of the time. Those rules needn’t be enforced when the reasons for their existence aren’t present. Better yet, just rewrite the rules so they only apply when the circumstances which necessitate their existence. A good example here might be “No feet on seats when it interferes with passengers wishing to use those seats.”

  4. I think that’s the key here. The fact he is empowered to arrest people for breaking rules doesn’t imply that this is something he must necessarily do. Had it been me, I might have quietly told the girl that she’ll have to take her feet off the seat if someone wants to sit there. And if someone tried to sit down but couldn’t because her feet were there, then and only then would I have told her to take her feet off the seat. If she didn’t comply, then I would have issued her a ticket. That would have been the end of it. No asking her to leave the train, no dragging her off the train.

  5. I tell you what. On Superbowl Sunday I’ll come over to your house to watch the game. I’ll be more than happy to put my dirty shoes up on your cloth furniture when not in use by other guests.

  6. Why was there a need to ask her to remove her feet in the first place? Was she interfering with someone who wanted to sit down? According to the witnesses, that wasn’t the case. There’s such a thing as discretionary enforcement which old school cops used all the time. That might also be why they were generally well-liked by most of the people they policed, whereas nowadays a lot of people can’t stand the police.

  7. Big difference as you’re talking public versus private property. I have no expectation that seats on public transit are going to be clean. That’s why I look before sitting down. The general public are slobs and transit agencies, if they even clean their equipment, don’t do so often enough for any rider to expect cleanliness.

    You would have to take your shoes off before I even let you enter my house, so dirty shoes on the furniture are not a possibility.

  8. There should not have been a need to ask her to remove her feet in the first place. People properly raised with manners do not put their dirty shoes on places where other people sit.

    Unfortunately the police officer had to do what is her parent’s responsibility. Teach her manners.

  9. Personally, I treat public property the same as I treat private property. I was raised not to put my dirty shoes on furniture. It’s called manners. Unfortunately the police officer had to do her parent’s job and teach her manners.

  10. So was I, to the point I wouldn’t even think of throwing a candy wrapper away anywhere but in a trash receptacle, but I’ve found it’s impossible to teach those who never learned proper behavior. Certainly using the police isn’t a answer here.

    Just this week some pig threw dog shit wrapped loosely in a paper towel in one of my trash cans which was sitting on my private property. I don’t know any good answers here to this societal epidemic of inconsiderate behavior. I do know this cop just made the jobs of cops everywhere a heck of lot harder.

  11. And a cop with little or no training can make a determination of her mental state that quickly? I’m saying this because it often takes while before people talking to my mother realize she has fairly advanced dementia. A cop has to assume everyone is mentally ill, and act accordingly until he/she is sure that isn’t the case.

  12. Rape her – really? The young lady was only cited for the infraction and released. Now the lady that spat at the officer is still rotting in a jail cell. Personally I am glad the police officer did not put up with her inappropriate behavior. I am sure that for some time now people will think twice before breaking Metro rules.

  13. Yes, it’s not unheard of for police to use their power in that way. Putting that aside, why not just issue a ticket if he has such a hard-on for enforcing rules? That seems to be a middle ground between doing nothing and dragging her off the train. He just opened up Metro to a nice lawsuit.

    Here’s a little more food for thought. Suppose by calling for back up for what is at best a petty infraction of the rules, he pulled cops from somewhere else and an actual rape occurred as a result? This is why I hate using valuable police resources in this way. Police are trained to deal with getting dangerous criminals off the streets. That’s what I want them doing 100% of the time, not trying to teach 18-year olds manners.

  14. It should have gone more like this, assuming of course it even makes sense to enforce the rule if she’s not interfering with people who want to sit there:

    1. Verbally ask her to take her feet off the seat.
    2. If she refuses ask her again, this time in a more stern tone of voice.
    3. If she still refuses, warn her that she’ll get a ticket if she doesn’t comply.
    4. Issue the ticket if her feet were still on the seat.

    #4 should have been the end of it. I think after #3 even an idiot would have complied. My late father, who was a sergeant for the HRA Police, pretty much routinely did this when people were breaking rules. He would ask them nicely the first time, more sternly one or two more times, finally threaten to ticket them, and then ticket them if they still failed to comply (or arrest them if the offense was something which required that). Very occasionally he had people who got violent when he tried to arrest them. That’s when the use of physical force started.

    Of course, that’s how most old-school police did things. The modern trend is throw the book at a person and enforce every petty rule, even when such enforcement isn’t really warranted.

  15. Thanks for bring this to my attention… not sure why I didn’t realize it at the time, but you’re correct. I will update that 2/23/2017 article to include a correction.

  16. You know who’s never hauled me off to jail?

    1) An Uber driver.
    2) My own car.
    3) My bike.

    Only government-owned transit does that.

  17. The video starts only after the situation has already started to escalate. From the first few seconds of the video, it is apparent that the exchange between the cop and woman went on for some time before the video started (officer: “I already told you what to do, but you disobeyed me…”) We have no idea if the cop approached her with a somewhat friendly request or if he had a snarky attitude.

    Whatever the case, the situation was easily avoided through application of common sense and common courtesy – take your feet off the seat if asked/ordered by a conductor or cop; better yet, don’t put your feet on the seat to begin with – no one want to sit in whatever is sticking to your shoes!

  18. May not be fair to immediately blame ‘upbringing’. We all do stupid/regrettable things when we have bad days; hopefully that’s all that was in play with this rider. Hopefully the teen learns that you need to pick your battles, even when you’re pissed off.

  19. 1a : morally despicable or abhorrent

    I’m not mincing words. What you write in the above comment is vile.

  20. The Article also explains that there was a better way for the 18 year old “kid” to handle a direct, basic, and harmless order from a police officer. End of argument. Allowing the people the right to choose with laws they abide by is what has made our generation as entitled as it is now. As for beating his wife, that is very descriptive. I think someone should make sure your not beating your wife.

  21. There is a class of transit riders who think that the seats are cleaned daily and their own shoes are sterile.

  22. The cop started WHAT? The cop was doing his job. It’s not a schoolyard scuffle with “he started it” bull$hit. What are you, 9? Enforce the rules when you say it’s ok? Eff that. What kind of entitled garbage response is that? YES IT DOES affect other passengers. Why should anyone have to sit where her dirty shoes, which have walked through dirt, piss, $hit, vomit, etc., are parked? No, it’s not ok if the subway isn’t crowded, it’s gross. You want to sit where people have put their dirty shoes? I don’t.
    You not agreeing with the law means nothing. If you don’t want to follow the rules, don’t ride the LA subway. The cop is enforcing the rules that are in place.

    He asked her to move her feet off the chair and she refused. If a cop caught you stabbing someone, is he supposed to write a ticket and say, “Carry on “ ? She had ample opportunity to comply. So then she had the option to get off and she refused that too. You want the cop to walk away, because she won’t comply? Nope, doesn’t work that way. IDGAF if you support the police. They don’t make laws, they only enforce what’s in place.

  23. So a cop witnessing a crime should write a ticket and say, “Carry on”? GTFO with that line of bs. Don’t like the rules, don’t ride the subway. You’re all salty over some 18 year old ADULT acting the fool. I’m sure she’s all impressed that you’re sticking up for her. Maybe her friend can spit in your face too.

  24. Well that’s quite generous of you! Putting him at a 4th grade level, you really see the best in people. He said I was only 6 and he couldn’t understand me. Well done! ;)

  25. Your last paragraph isn’t true at all. Other passengers can and have reprimanded rude, inconsiderate people. That’s really the best way, not having police enforce some arbitrary set of rules with zero tolerance. If someone behaves in a way which bothers another person on public transit, then that person is free to offer up a “correction”. I once corrected someone who first claimed I kept staring at him, then started telling me I’d better get off the train. Turns out he got off the train, with my foot up his ass, at the next stop. If other passengers were bothered by this girl’s behavior, then surely one or more of them would have let her know. There are some things which are police matters, and others which aren’t. This is one of the latter.

  26. The young lady has not been convicted of a felony. Her life will be O.K. Even if her fifteen minutes of YouTube fame causes her problems, she has no one else to blame other than herself.

    When your father was a police officer, people took responsibility for their actions. Even if somebody had raised their feet on a public transportation seat, they would have said, “Yes Officer” and complied if asked to take their feet down.

  27. The issue you’re choosing to focus on would never have happened had an immature girl with zero manners had a shred of sense. Racists and Trump can be blamed for countless horrible things, but this is not one of them. The girl’s poor behavior is what is accountable.

  28. All true. Relatively speaking, as far as the LAPD’s default paramilitary tactics, Little Miss Garbage Mouth got off easy.

  29. Newsflash, most people still take responsibility for their actions and comply with police instructions but now the police act like an occupation force. When I saw that congregation of cops for such a minor thing it reminded me of the Gestapo or KGB. I actually actively fear getting stopped by the police every time I’m out riding my bike even if I’m not breaking any traffic laws. All it takes is one with an overblown ego and an itchy trigger finger to put me six feet under. Maybe they’ll claim they saw me going for a gun when I tried to pull out my ID.

    The out of control police are the main reason I think citizens should all be allowed to carry firearms. When a bad cop does get out of control, the good citizens will take him/her out. The very threat of that will keep most of the police in line. When the police are better armed than the citizenry, this is what happens.

    And no, her life won’t be OK. I would have been fired from my present consulting job for so much as a traffic ticket. Lots of jobs require someone to have a completely clean record.

  30. Public servant = internet commenters – reaching for quite the absurd false equivalency there aren’t we?

    How about you think just a little bit before you embarrass and contradict yourself?

  31. Nobody said feet on the seat warranted cuffs. Refusing to comply when asked to take them off and then refusing to leave the train however ABSOLUTELY DOES.

  32. What exactly is vile about what Sahra said? I really don’t understand what you’re talking about.

  33. If inanimate objects taking you to jail is a concern of yours, I think you’ve got bigger problems to worry about.

  34. So… you are coming out as someone who doesn’t believe in the value of more diverse newsrooms? I mean, I kinda got that, given your consistent dismissal of me and everything I’ve ever written as wholly invalid. But I didn’t expect you to be so adamant about it. It’s the most emotion I’ve ever seen from you. I’m touched!

    The reason we value having diverse voices doing reporting is because of the different lived experiences they bring and the different questions they ask and the different takes they have on issues. Something that is beneficial for one group may be detrimental for another… and knowing that so we can create better policy for all matters. A more visible police presence reassures some people, for example, but it makes others who are vulnerable or who have been mistreated or profiled feel unsafe. The comments racking up here are largely from people of privilege who have never suffered abuses at the hands of officers and who are largely unaware, on a visceral level, of what it looks like or feels like, or how it impacts entire communities (and the mobility of those communities). It’s my job to be attuned to the perspective in the communities I cover. That’s one I present here.

    I will never understand why consideration of the needs of communities of color is so deeply offensive to people of privilege – particularly progressives, who are often the quickest to shut these voices down. I mean, I do know why. I just am always surprised at how eager they are to spell it out for me.

    Until next time.

  35. Metro Code clearly states no feet on the furnishings. She should have complied with the lawful order and none of this would have happened.
    Other woman should have minded her own business and not escalated the situation where he needed to call in all the other cops.

  36. Put your p/iss and sh/t covered shoes (because that’s what’s on city sidewalks) on the seat of your next Uber ride and see how fast the driver kicks your ass out into the street, if not punching you in the face first.

  37. You call yourself “Five Stars” and yet you can’t figure out why Uber drivers don’t NEED to be violent thugs. I’d take a punch in the face, but I’d be terrified of getting a bad rating, so I behave!

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