A Minneapolis man who pleaded guilty to beating a Metro Transit bus driver faces a maximum of three months in jail.
Sterling V. Smith, 26, entered his plea in Hennepin County District Court this week to interference with a transit operator, a felony, and is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 3. Under a plea deal, a more serious charge of third-degree assault will be dismissed.
Smith is expected to receive up to 90 days in jail and credit for time he was jailed after his arrest following the April 10 attack on the Route 5 bus in north Minneapolis. A determination about restitution is pending.
The beating was captured by a passenger on video and widely shared on social media. Laughter could be heard from one passenger, and no one on the bus attempted to intervene on the driver’s behalf.
“When we saw the video on Facebook, we were disgusted,” Metro Transit bus transportation director Christy Bailly said soon after the assault.
According to the criminal complaint, three women boarded the bus at Emerson and 15th avenues N. The driver asked one of them to stop swearing; when she failed to comply, he called dispatch and asked police to come and remove her.
Another woman on the bus approached the driver and asked why the bus wasn’t moving. At that point, the woman accused of swearing said the driver had made racial comments. The driver was white, the woman black, according to transit police.
The second woman called Smith, her boyfriend, who lives nearby. He got on the bus and struck the seated driver in the head with a flurry of blows. Smith fled when the bloodied driver activated his alarm.
Bus driver safety was a key issue during union contract talks last year. Many incidents involve passengers punching, choking, slapping and spitting on drivers, throwing bottles, and fighting with others on the bus.
The push for improved safety conditions resulted in the installation of plexiglass enclosures around the driver’s seat in 21 buses, of Metro Transit’s fleet of more than 900, to test its effectiveness. The bus in this assault did not have the plexiglass.