A Minneapolis man was charged Wednesday with the beating of a Metro Transit bus driver that was captured by a passenger on video — footage that “disgusted” the transportation agency.
Sterling V. Smith, 26, was charged with third-degree assault and obstructing the operation of a transit vehicle. Smith remains jailed ahead of his first court appearance Thursday.
The video, widely shared on social media, captured the afternoon assault on a driver in north Minneapolis, along with the laughter of a female passenger. No one on the bus attempted to intervene.
“When we saw the video on Facebook, we were disgusted,” said Metro Transit Bus Transportation Director Christy Bailly.
According to the criminal complaint, three women boarded the Route 5F bus at Emerson and 15th avenues N. midafternoon on April 10. The driver, who has not been identified, asked one of them to stop swearing and when she failed to respond, 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 Metro Transit police.
The second woman called Smith, her boyfriend, and told him the bus’ location. Smith, who lives nearby, got on the bus and struck the seated driver in the head with a flurry of punches. Smith also kneed the driver in the head, the complaint states. The driver activated his alarm, and Smith fled.
Officers arrived and saw that the driver had blood on his nose and upper lip, a cut to his right eyelid and scrapes on his forehead. He said he was suffering from double vision, the complaint said.
Smith told police the driver used a racial slur. However, investigators said the incident was recorded and no such statement could be heard. Smith, whose nontraffic criminal history in Minnesota includes only a trespassing conviction, responded, “I took it the wrong way possibly.”
Bus driver safety was a key issue during contract talks with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1005 last year.
So far this year, the number of assaults on Metro Transit operators has increased to 56 incidents compared with 49 over the same period last year. In 2017, there were 184 assaults against operators.
Many incidents involve passengers punching a driver in the face, choking, slapping and spitting on them, throwing bottles, and fighting with others on the bus.
The push for improved safety conditions resulted in the installation of plexiglass beside the driver’s seat in 21 buses, starting in December, to test its effectiveness. The bus where last week’s assault occurred did not have the plexiglass; such a barrier would have prevented the attack, according to Ryan Timlin, ATU Local 1005 president.
The Route 5 bus is Metro Transit’s busiest, serving about 16,000 passengers on weekdays, and is slated to be largely replaced by the proposed D Line rapid bus within the next three years. Because riders will pay before they board, more Metro Transit police will ride the line for fare checks.
“There will be an increased police presence on the bus,” said Metro Transit Western District Capt. Anthony Hines.
Star Tribune staff writer Janet Moore contributed to this report.