Updated: This story was originally published January 23. It has been updated with the most recent information.
Raw video of a sergeant forcibly hauling a young woman off a Los Angeles subway car—because she kept her feet on a seat—has ignited a divisive debate about police overreach, with some decrying the incident as an abuse of power.
The Los Angeles Police Department sergeant grabbed Bethany Nava, 18, by her arm and pulled her off the train at Metro’s Westlake station Monday afternoon, because she kept her feet on a seat after being asked multiple times to remove them, according to the LAPD. She was then detained, cited for “engaging in boisterous or unruly behavior,” and released, according to police spokesperson Mike Lopez.
A bystander who spit on the sergeant was arrested and booked into jail on suspicion of battery, Lopez said. The LAPD has launched a use of force investigation.
Those who said the police overreacted found an ally in Metro CEO Phil Washington on Wednesday morning.
“I am extremely disappointed... Our riders deserve better,” the CEO said in a statement. “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.”
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.
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.
The arrest was captured on video that has been shared more than 155,000 times on Facebook. The roughly 10-minute-long video starts aboard a Metro train as it pulls into the Westlake subway station. It shows the sergeant speaking to a young woman, who later identifies herself as Bethany Nava.
I JUST WITNESS THIS ON THE TRAIN! PLEASE SHARE THIS ABUSE OF POWER!Posted by Brock Bryan on Monday, January 22, 2018
“You’re getting off the train right now,” the sergeant says. “I already told you what to do, and you disobeyed me. Come on. Get ready to walk.”
The sergeant then starts pulling the young woman’s arm as he repeats, “Come on, stand up.” As he pulls her off the train, Nava loops her elbow around a handhold bar, and says, “I paid to be on this train, asshole. Stop!”
Off the train and on the subway platform, a bystander, identified by police as 22-year-old Selina Lechuga, approaches Nava and the sergeant as they argue. After several minutes, more LAPD officers arrive and take Nava and Lechuga into custody.
Lopez says Nava was released, but Lechuga was booked into jail on $20,000 bail.
Lopez says that before the sergeant dragged Nava off the train, he had repeatedly asked her to remove her feet from a train seat. Metro’s code of conduct stipulates that riders are not to put their feet on seats.
Deputy Chief Bob Green, who oversees Metro operations for LAPD, told KPCC that the department only recently started enforcing the code of conduct. He defended the officer’s actions:
”All that gal had to do was comply and this would be a non-event, because that same thing goes on hundreds of times every day throughout our system with our officers trying to restore order, and people who ride that train are begging for order on the system,” Green said.
The incident poses a broader question about policing policy aboard Metro’s buses and trains: Does dragging a rider off a Metro train for putting her feet on a seat contribute to public safety aboard transit?
Eric Mann, the executive director of the activist civil rights group Labor Community Strategy Center, says the police presence does a disservice to regular riders.
“If you’re black or Latino on the train, it’s virtually promised that you’ll have miserable experience,” says Mann. “The onboard police say, ‘We’re going to treat you like you are a criminal. Eventually we’re going to find something that you did, because we have so many statutes on the books that we can get you on anything.’”
Mann’s Strategy Center is suing Metro and the LAPD for failing to disclose information about police presence aboard Metro vehicles.
Here’s how people responded to the video:
I AM SICK OF THIS SHI*!!! This happened today in LA on the train to friends of friends. DISGUSTING officer #5203 of LAPD. Filing a complaint at Lapdcms@lapd.online helping spread the word. https://t.co/RdsWu5wWNb— Charlet Chung (@CharletChung) January 23, 2018
Glad to see @lapdmta out here on @metrolosangeles trains making sure kids don't be put their feet on seats. Watching this really made me pine for riding the train again. Not. #GoMetro #LAPDMetro https://t.co/V0ie0Ll1AC— Erick Huerta (@ElRandomHero) January 23, 2018