Man Charged in Connection to Bus Driver Assault

April 18, 2018 06:36 PM

A 26-year-old Minneapolis man has been charged with third-degree assault for an attack on a Metro Transit bus operator that was caught on camera.

The incident occurred April 10 on a Route 5 bus. The driver is still recovering at home from his injuries, bus transportation director Christy Bailey said.

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Sterling Verloz Smith was arrested Wednesday by transit police, according to jail records. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance Thursday afternoon.

According to the criminal complaint, police responded when an alarm on the bus was signaled in the area of 15th Avenue and Emerson Avenue North in Minneapolis. 

They found the driver with “blood on his nose and upper lip,” along with scrapes on his forehead. He told officers he also had double-vision.

The operator told police three woman had gotten on the bus and one of the women was swearing. 

The complaint states the operator asked her to stop and she became uncooperative. He stopped the bus to wait for law enforcement to arrive and assist.

The complaint then said another woman who was on the bus was on the phone with her boyfriend, identified as Smith. Bus security video shows Smith boarding the bus, escorting the woman off, then getting back on the bus. 

The complaint alleges he asked the driver “you wanna go,” then began striking the driver on his head.

RELATED: Metro Transit Investigating Video Showing Attack of Bus Driver

The operator was able to trigger the bus alarm before Smith fled the scene, according to the complaint.

When officers located Smith, he told them he thought he heard the driver use a racial slur, according to the complaint. When officers explained that audio and video recordings from the bus reveal no such statement, Smith told police, “I took it the wrong way possibly.”

Smith is facing two felony counts: third-degree assault and transit obstruction.

During a news conference Wednesday, Metro Transit officials said the driver had been in his position for two years.

Numbers released by the Twin Cities transportation authority show assaults and offenses committed against transit operators are on the rise.

Since the start of 2018, 56 total cases have been reported to police. That's compared to 49 during the same period in 2017.

All told in 2017, Metro Transit said 184 offenses were committed against transit operators.


By the numbers

Metro Transit numbers on operator assaults so far this year, and how they compare over the same period in 2017:

2018 (Year to date)

Felony - 1 (zero by the end of April in 2017)

Gross misdemeanor (physical assault) - 6 (3 at end of April in 2017)

Gross misdemeanor (spitting) - 8 (18 at the end of April last year)

Misdemeanor - 10 (6 at the end of April last year)

Disorderly conduct/threats - 31 (22 at the end of April last year)

Total offenses against operators - 56 (49 at the end of April last year)


 Meanwhile, Bailey said she was relieved to hear of Smith's arrest.

"(The driver) did nothing to deserve this," Bailey said. "When we saw the video on Facebook, we were disgusted. When I saw it I cried."

ATU Local 1005 president Ryan Timlin said there's a fear of something like this happening for every transit driver when they go to work.

"The video that went all over social media last week is the reality of violence that transit workers face on the job," Timlin said. "Too often it feels like nothing happens after these situations."

Timlin said the union's membership will likely be pushing for changes, including installing transparent barriers in more buses across the Twin Cities.

Metro Transit started a pilot program earlier this year, testing the barriers on some routes. Officials said they are open to talking with the union about the program when the test run is completed.

KSTP

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