A blind Minneapolis man who said he was unjustly kicked off a Metro Transit bus in 2013 has received a copy of bus video surveillance of the incident, after a legal battle that went to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Robert Burks said he hopes to use the footage to prove that Metro Transit violated disability laws. But the agency produced a recent ruling from the state Department of Human Rights concluding that it was Burks’ “belligerent behavior,” including a previous argument with the same driver — rather than his disability — that got him kicked off the bus.
Burks, 50, shared the video with the Star Tribune.
“I feel like I wasn’t treated fairly,” he said. “People with a cane are supposed to get the same respect as someone in a wheelchair. It seems like that ain’t always the case. [The driver] was very rude. He really frightened me.” He added that the driver questioned whether he was truly disabled.
Burks, who suffers from glaucoma and started losing his sight at 16, lives in downtown Minneapolis and works part time at Target Field filling condiments.
The morning of the encounter, Nov. 15, 2013, he was on his way to an appointment at the State Services for the Blind. He stood at the bus stop at the corner of 4th Street and Hennepin Avenue and held his cane out to signal the bus, the way he said he had been taught at school. He said one bus stopped but he waved it on after realizing it was the wrong bus. Then the bus he needed cruised past him, and he said he scrambled over to where it had stopped.
The videotape includes simultaneous views from five different cameras, including a view through the front windshield. Burks can be seen standing on the curb holding his white cane as the bus rolls past him and stops at the bus sign on the corner.
After boarding, according to the tape, Burks immediately confronts the driver: The other bus stopped for me but you didn’t. Why?
Burks said he never heard the driver respond. But on the tape the driver says, “The stop sign is right here. Sir, just go. It’s the third time of you arguing with me. I remember you. The guy is trouble.”
Burks starts to walk down the bus aisle using his cane, but then turns around and walks back to the driver.
“Is that supposed to be a smart remark? ... It’s supposed to be a brand new day,” Burks can be heard saying. “You don’t stop. Don’t you see me standing there, sir?” He then turns around and takes a seat in the back of the bus.
According to the tape, the driver then calls dispatch. “I got a blind man,” the driver says. “This is the third time he argues with me. I don’t want to see him any more.”
Burks is seen on the video riding the bus quietly for almost 10 minutes as it makes several stops. Then two Metro Transit police officers board the bus and the driver tells them, “Sometimes he uses a cane, sometimes he doesn’t use a cane. ... It’s the third argument. I don’t want to see him anymore. Every time he sees me he tries to get me in trouble.”
The driver tells the officers that a fight nearly erupted during one of their previous encounters. “Right now he’s quiet because I call you guys,” the driver says.
The officers escorted Burks off the bus, but did not cite or arrest him. They permitted him to board the next bus on the route, according to court records.
Burks called Metro Transit’s complaint line and left a message that same day but got no response, according to court records.
Then, with the help of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and Minnesota Disability Law Center, he sued Metro Transit for access to the bus surveillance video. Metro Transit argued that it was private personnel data and refused to give it to Burks, although it allowed a human rights investigator to watch it.
Last August, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Burks should have access to the footage.
According to the Feb. 5 Human Rights Department report, Burks and the same driver got into an argument in June 2012 when the driver demanded that Burks’ personal care assistance sit with him or pay the passenger fee. Burks started swearing.
Metro Transit has not identified the driver but said, according to the report, that he was “coached on how he could better have handled the situation and was told not to argue with passengers.”
According to the report, drivers are supposed to stop at bus signs.
“No one wants to see something like this happen. In an ideal world everyone is trying to get from point A to point B safely and peacefully,” said Howie Padilla, spokesman for Metro Transit.