A Black man shown on viral videos being detained by police for eating a sandwich while waiting for a commuter train in San Francisco has reportedly taken steps to file a civil rights lawsuit. Steven “Orlando” Foster recently told NewsOne that he felt he was singled out on Nov. 4 by a white Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer for doing what many other people on a rain platform were doing – a violation of a rule that people said was rarely enforced.
The entire episode seemed to be yet another installment in the ongoing saga of white people policing Black people for doing everyday activities. This time around, it just happened to be an officer.
The videos posted to Foster’s Facebook page have been disabled, but portions of them still exist on other social media.
A lawyer representing Foster said his client was targeted for the wrong reasons.
“This case smacks of racial profiling and selective law enforcement,” Bay Area civil rights attorney John Burris said Thursday during a press conference to announce the claim has been filed against BART. The contents and exact nature of the claim was not entirely clear.
Foster, who was ultimately handcuffed before being ticketed and fined $250, said during a brief interview on Monday that he thought his treatment was ridiculous.
“Honestly, I think it’s bullshit,” Foster, a 31-year-old tech company supervisor who lives in the San Francisco suburb of Concord, said. “I really feel like I got singled out over a sandwich.”
Eating food on BART property is against the rules, but Foster said he thought that only applied on the actual trains, not the platform. Foster, who said he only had two bites left of the sandwich, told the cop — identified only as BART Officer McCormick – that he was almost finished. When the train approached the station, Foster said he picked up his bag and McCormick also grabbed it and wouldn’t let go, preventing him from boarding the train.
“Before I knew it, he grabbed me by my bag and just pulled me out of line and that’s when my girl started recording,” Foster said referring to his girlfriend who was with him and filmed the footage.
“You are detained and you are not free to go,” McCormick kept repeating to Foster. “You’re eating. It’s against the law.”
“I feel like it was definitely racial,” Foster added, saying he thought that McCormick “was on a power trip with his badge and gun.”
Burris said McCormick should have used de-escalation tactics that are part of the required training for police.
“[They] Immediately got into a confrontational mode as opposed to taking a position to give some advisement to him and let him know that was not appropriate to do so,” Burris said Thursday. “If that had happened, Mr. Foster would have easily complied. The sandwich was almost done. He was almost finished with it.”
McCormick told Foster’s girlfriend that he had originally been dispatched to the platform in search of a woman suspected of being drunk. But Foster told NewsOne than McCormick “came straight up the escalator to the platform, passed up everybody else drinking their coffee and eating their bagels and came straight up to me and said ‘you can’t eat on BART.’”
When Foster spoke to NewsOne, he said resented the fact that BART hadn’t tried to contact him. He marveled at how dozens of reporters could find a way to reach him but not BART, which arrested him and had his contact information.
“No matter how you feel about eating on BART, the officer saw someone eating and asked him to stop, when he didn’t, he was given a citation,” BART spokesperson Alicia Trost told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Hours after NewsOne’s conversation with Foster, it was reported by BuzzFeed News that BART finally apologized – a full week after Foster had been detained for eating a sandwich.
Foster said the episode was an inconvenience for him on a number of levels.
“It’s really expensive to live out here in the Bay Area,” he said in reference to his fine that he planned to contest. He also said at the time he intended to get a lawyer but didn’t have the funds to pay for one. “I’m also going thru a custody battle with my baby’s mother so I’m still trying to get a lawyer for that one too,” he said.
CBS San Francisco reported that “BART has 45 days to respond to the claim, which is a pre-cursor to a federal or state civil rights lawsuit.”