Black Man Sues Bar Area Transit Police After They Mistake Him for Panhandler and Arrest Him

A Black man is suing the Bay Area Rapid Transit police over an August encounter that he said occurred because of racial profiling, when they took him down and arrested him because they assumed he was a harassing panhandler.

On Aug. 17, at 6:55 p.m., BART police arrested Albert James Burleson while looking for a panhandler who accosted a woman at Powell Station.

BART officers were looking for a bald Black man in a black shirt and black plants. The only part of the description of the woman’s harasser that matched Burleson was Black male.

Burleson, who isn’t bald, was waiting for his train at the Powell station wearing a red shirt, grey jacket and light brown dress shoes when he was approached by BART officers, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

Burleson claims Officer Darnell Bussey said he matched the description of the panhandler. The suit says Bussey grabbed Burleson and knocked him off balance while pulling him towards the tracks. He stepped back to stay on the platform and was then pushed up against a wall.

Burleson is suing BART police for racial profiling, brutality, and wrongful arrest and imprisonment, according to his complaint.

The BART police department isn’t too far removed from the incident that resulted in the 2009 death of Oscar Grant III at Fruitvale Station—a story that was made into a Hollywood firm starring Michael B. Jordan. Since the Fruitvale shooting, BART had undergone a series of reforms that were showing some progress. Reforms included “a new chief, new commanders, wearable video cameras and a culture shift that demanded officers treat commuters and criminal suspects with respect, not just brute authority,” according to the Contra Costa Times.

Despite the perceived improvements, the department finds itself involved in another racially-charged incident.

“There appeared to be enough information to talk to the person and that person turned the conversation into a lawful dentention,” Deputy Chief Jeffrey Jennings told the Examiner.

But Burleson’s attorney, Rachel Lederman, said that her client was singled out because he’s a Black man and that he’s nervous about it happening again.

A video recorded by an Examiner reporter showed Burleson shouting, “What the f**k is your problem man?” as he was taken to the ground. Four other officers assisted in taking down Burleson. The suit claims that off-duty Oakland Police Officer Brenton Lowe and Officer Myron Lowe pressed their knees into Burleson’s neck and back. A retired Oakland police officer, Frank Lowe, and an unidentified officer were also involved in bringing down Burleson.

The BART officers didn’t realize they had made a mistake until they took Burleson back to the police substation.

According to the lawsuit, Bussey apologized and told Burleson that they had made a mistake. The woman who reported being harassed by the panhandler confirmed to BART Police that Burleson was not her attacker.

After Burleson threatened to take legal action against the police, Bussey placed him under arrest and he wasn’t released until 5 a.m. the following morning.

BART Police have yet to be served, spokesperson Alicia Trost told the Examiner. They have begun an internal affairs investigation of the arrest.

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