On top of the widely reported rise in petty crime on the BART system so far this year, there's been a disturbing rise in violent sexual crimes as well that until now hasn't been discussed. Perhaps heeding recent calls from the media and the public regarding a lack of transparency of crime reporting by BART, new BART police chief Carlos Rojas who was just sworn in May 25 just released data about rapes and sexual assaults that have been reported on trains and in stations and station parking lots during the first six months of this year. In those six months, there have been seven reported rapes and 28 reported sexual assaults, as the Mercury News reports, compared with eight rapes and 28 assaults in all of 2016. This puts both statistics on track to be doubled by year end, but Rojas cautioned that this shouldn't necessarily be seen as a trend.
The Mercury News also notes that the 28 assaults in 2016 marked a 75 percent increase over 2015.
Regarding the rapes, Rojas says they're cause for "concern," but "You have to keep it within context. Really, what you start looking at is, ‘Is there a certain individual that’s going around sexually assaulting people, and do we have a serial rapist, or is there a certain activity or environment that is contributing to somebody being placed in a vulnerable position?'" He said the answer was no to those questions in all seven rape cases, and that the victims, who were both male and female, knew the assailants in several of the cases. Arrests were made in five of the seven cases.
Details about each of the 28 sexual battery and assault cases were not given only two cases from February made some headlines: this one involving an interrupted sexual assault at Rockridge Station, and this one involving a creeper who followed and cornered at woman at MacArthur Station.
BART spokesman Taylor Huckaby gave a statement to the Merc saying that BART Police evaluate each case before deciding whether to publicize it. And the factors that effect that decision include “where the investigation stands, what kind of evidence needs to be preserved, whether the police department is seeking the public’s help in apprehending the suspect, and whether there is any benefit to passenger safety."
In April, BART posted this somewhat tone-deaf PSA poster on trains, educating women about how to "avoid creeps."
Below, as described to the Mercury News over the phone by Rojas, are descriptions of the seven cases labeled as rapes:
- Feb. 12, Rockridge station: Officers intervened in an argument between a man and a woman in the station’s parking lot after a passenger called police. Police found the man and woman involved in sexual activity in the parking lot, and after speaking with the woman, determined she had not consented to sex. Officers arrested 47-year-old Thomas Johnson of Oakland on suspicion of rape.
- March 2, San Leandro station: A man reported he was sexually assaulted in the station’s parking lot by a Lyft driver. Rojas said the passenger and suspect, later identified as a 39-year-old Oakland resident, had been in a prior consensual relationship, but at the time of the incident, no consent was given. Police arrested the suspect, but the case was later dismissed, Rojas said, because the victim stopped cooperating.
- March 9, San Bruno station: A woman told police a man followed her into a restroom at the station and told her she was going to have sex with her and then grabbed her breast. She was able to get away from the assailant, who was later arrested and identified as 42-year-old San Francisco resident Timothy Cobb.
- March 15, MacArthur station: The suspect, who was ultimately arrested and identified as 31-year-old Oakland resident Eric Starghill, led his victim into a stairwell at the station and forced the person to perform a sex act. Rojas said he didn’t have information on whether the victim was a man or woman.
- April 3, Richmond station: A man told police he met another man at the station under the impression that he was modeling for an underwear ad. The suspect, later arrested and identified as 30-year-old Richmond resident Jordan Davis, performed oral sex on the victim, Rojas said.
- April 25, Warm Springs: A man and another person engaged in conversation while on the train. During that conversation, the man began masturbating under his clothing and allegedly sexually assaulted the victim. The victim declined to cooperate, Rojas said, and the investigation was suspended. He said he didn’t have information on whether the victim was a man or woman.
- May 24, North Berkeley: A man on a train sat next to a woman, who is autistic, and exposed himself to her before placing her hand on his genitals, Rojas said. Police have not yet identified him.