LOS ANGELES, Calif. (FOX 11) - An 18-year-old woman who was seen on cell phone video being dragged off a Metro subway train by police for allegedly refusing to take her foot off a seat said Monday she did nothing wrong and was targeted by the sergeant involved.
"I'm a young girl,'' Bethany Nava said at a news conference with her attorney, Michael Carrillo. "I've always looked to the police as my protectors, as somebody who could keep me safe. Now I can say that I'm deeply afraid of him. I'm afraid to get on the Metro because I might see him and I don't know what he'll do to me if he sees me again.''
Carrillo filed a legal claim on behalf of Nava against the city on Friday, seeking unspecified damages. The claim is a precursor to a lawsuit.
Nava was pulled off a subway train Jan. 22 at the Westlake/MacArthur Park subway station, allegedly because she refused to take her foot off a seat. Police eventually pulled the screaming woman off the train, even as she hooked her arm around a pole and yelled that her belongings were still on the subway.
The confrontation was caught on cell phone video that was widely broadcast. In the ensuing chaos, another woman, Selena Lechuga was arrested for allegedly spitting on the LAPD sergeant involved in the arrest of Nava.
There was no immediate comment from the city in response to the claim filed by Nava.
Metro CEO Phil Washington issued a statement last week saying he was "disappointed'' by what he saw in the video.
Police officers ``encounter hundreds of conduct issues each day, and some of them are faced with very difficult situations,'' he said. "But my hope is that we work to de-escalate situations as much as possible. The investigation is under way to gather all the facts, and until we have the complete story, we must not rush to judgment.''
The Metro system is patrolled by a multi-agency partnership that includes the LAPD, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and the Long Beach Police Department, in addition to Metro's own security personnel.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck last week also asked people to avoid rushing to judgment based on the video.
"What I would ask everybody is, let's all be civil in our interactions, you know?'' Beck said during an appearance on ABC7. "I'm not going to pre-judge this. Obviously there's things of concern in the video, but I will tell you this, the sergeant involved in this is a 20-plus-year veteran with almost no use-of-force history. And we owe him an unbiased investigation that is more than just watching a snippet of video and making a judgment.
"And I will also tell you that during this incident he was spit on -- not by that young lady but another,'' he said. ``Let's all be civil. If an officer asks you to do something, please do it. And to my officers also, let's be reasonable about the force you use.''
Nava said she had her foot on her own seat when the sergeant approached her and asked her to put her foot down, and she complied. She said when the sergeant walked away, ``I put my foot on my right thigh.''
"And I guess it looked like it was still on the seat,'' she said, and it prompted the sergeant to return.
"He told me you're going to put your foot down or I'm going to arrest you,'' Nava said, adding that she put her foot down on the floor again.
"I faced toward him and asked him, `Why are you arresting me? What's the law that I'm breaking?' And he says there doesn't need to be a law, you're disobeying me.'' "... I just wanted to understand why he wanted to take me off the train,'' she said. ``Instead of explaining, he grabbed me by my right elbow and started to pull me off the train. I told him, `You can't touch me like that.' And he said, `I can touch you all I want.' Then he started to pull me really hard out of the train while telling me to get my (expletive), but not giving me the chance to because it was still on my seat.
"... I just want to say that I reacted how I did out of fear and confusion,'' she said. ``... I've never been in trouble with the law before. I didn't resist when they put the handcuffs on me. ... There was no point in fighting. When they put the cuffs on me pretty tightly I had a panic attack relaxing the situation I was in. I didn't fight after that. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.''
City Councilman Joe Buscaino posted a statement on Twitter expressing support for the officer's actions.
``As an LAPD officer for 15 years, I never went to work looking forward to hauling someone to jail, and always practiced de-escalation,'' he wrote. ``I understand how it can be very easy to put your foot up, especially if you are tired. However, we must show respect to our fellow travelers, and definitely show respect to an authority who is acting in the interest of public safety.'
Police say it is rare that they have to pull someone off of a Metro train, but it happened at the Westlake/MacArthur Park station this week between 3 and 4:00 pm and it was all recorded.
Bethany Nava and an LAPD officer found themselves face to face in a confrontation that went viral.
The 18-year-old was a passenger on the Red Line. On the train, a police officer tells her to get her feet off of an adjacent seat. He begins to pull her away. In the video, you can see your resisting and yell "No your not…I paid to be on this train…stop…If you're pulling me off the train I can't get my stuff... let me go…my phone is on the train.
We then hear a man saying "Officer please, please…please stop doing this officer please."
That voice is Bryan Brock who shot the cell phone video. He was also a passenger on the train… and was surprised by the escalation in tension. He told his story only to FOX 11.
Brock says, "It seemed pretty harmless and then he proceeded to pull her off the train." The tension increased, he says, "after she was being apprehended and pulled and yanked off the train and she's trying to get her things. I feel it escalated further than it needed to be."
In its Code of Conduct METRO says occupying an extra seat other than your own, whether by putting feet, hands, a package or backpack, is not okay and punishable, first by a warning, then a citation. There can even be fines, but it is an infraction.
LAPD Deputy Chief Bob Green says, "In the hundreds of contacts we have every day very rarely do we put hands on people in the subway." With regard to the "use of force investigation", this has triggered Green says, "We'll look at every aspect of that use of force. See if it's in policy…training issues or out of policy use of force. The investigation will determine all of that."
We reached out to Bethany Nava and her mother to hear Nava's side of the story, but her mom texted they wanted to find a lawyer first.