Transit Advocacy Group Sues for Information on Racial Profiling by the L.A. County Metro

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact: Joshua Busch, 310-991-2503, jbusch@PublicCounsel.org

Los Angeles, CA (December 13, 2017) – In a lawsuit filed today, the Labor/Community Strategy Center (“Strategy Center”) asked the court to order the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“MTA”), the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”), and the Long Beach Police Department to follow the law requiring transparency in government and disclose documents that detail a pattern of policing which has resulted in grossly disproportionate citations of African American train riders.

The Strategy Center, a longtime advocate for access to fair and unbiased public transit, was successful in a prior lawsuit demanding the MTA end its practices that violated the civil rights of bus riders.  Today’s lawsuit asks the court to find that the MTA and its contracted law enforcement agencies violated the California Public Records Act by failing to turn over records on officer deployment and racial statistics on train stops and citations — information, which would allow the public and, if necessary, a court, to evaluate the existence of a pattern of racial profiling and selective enforcement.  This lawsuit is part of a four-year effort by the Strategy Center to end MTA’s criminalization of “fare evasion” and MTA’s “Broken Windows” police tactics on trains.  These practices create a hostile system for Black riders by denying equal access to public transportation and displacing Black residents from employment, education, and affordable housing opportunities.

The Strategy Center is represented by Public Counsel, the Law Offices of Lisa Holder, Equal Justice Society and Crowell & Moring LLP.

The MTA’s own records reveal that from 2011 to 2016, African American train riders were three times more likely to be contacted by law enforcement than White, Latino or Asian-American train riders; an extraordinary variance which suggests racial profiling.  MTA’s own records further show that, although African-Americans are less than 20 percent of the train riders, they receive more than 50 percent of fare evasion citations.  Similar patterns exist for quality of life citations on the train.

Real life experience riders confirm the MTA statistics.  For example, one rider reported that he was singled out at a universal check-point at a downtown station.  In that instance, while concentrating all of their attention on him, fare checkers let numerous non-black passengers leave the station unchecked.  Lisa Holder, one of the attorneys representing the Plaintiffs said that the “statistical data coupled with anecdotal evidence indicate a pattern of selective enforcement that contravenes statutes and constitutional laws prohibiting racial discrimination.  It must be investigated with the full cooperation of the MTA, the LAPD, the Long Beach Police Department, and Sheriff’s Department.”

Barbara Lott-Holland, Associate Director of Strategy Center, stated: “For a decade, our members have shared their experiences of seeing and being subject to anti-Black discrimination at the hands of the Sheriff’s Department and MTA.  We collected years of data and confirmed that there is egregious disparity in the rates of fare citations for Black riders.  We now demand answers from the MTA and Sheriff’s Department, and we demand justice for the Black community.”

The public has a right to a transparent accounting of police fare checks, detainments, searches, use of force, citations, and arrests on the trains.  “We are deeply troubled by the alarming racial discrepancies in fare evasion citations, and the first-hand accounts of discrimination against Black transit riders,” said Anne Richardson, the directing attorney for Public Counsel’s Consumer Law Project. “It is paramount that the MTA and the contracting law enforcement agencies give a comprehensive account for how law enforcement operates and interacts with the public on the MTA system.  The residents of Los Angeles have the right to evaluate whether our public agencies are engaging in behavior that violates the civil rights of Angelenos.”

The Strategy Center will continue its campaign to “Fight for the Soul of the City” – a campaign to counteract “Black pushout” from the City of Los Angeles.  The fight begins with demanding MTA and Sheriff Department, LAPD and Long Beach Police Department transparency.

Public Counsel is the nation’s largest Pro Bono law firm, handling impact litigation, pursuing legislative change, and providing direct legal services. In 2016, Public Counsel staff and over 4,800 volunteers provided legal services to 19,000 individuals and more than 300 nonprofit organizations, and conducted impact litigation on behalf of over 12 million people.

Equal Justice Society is transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts. Led by President Eva Paterson, our legal strategy aims to broaden conceptions of present-day discrimination to include unconscious and structural bias by using social science, structural analysis, and real-life experience. Currently, EJS targets its advocacy efforts on school discipline, special education, and the school-to-prison pipeline, race-conscious remedies, and inequities in the criminal justice system.

Law Offices of Lisa Holder is a private criminal defense and civil right practice focused on cases involving police misconduct and discrimination in employment and education. The firm’s principal attorney, Lisa Holder, also teaches the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Clinic at UCLA Law.

Crowell & Moring LLP, is an international law firm with approximately 500 lawyers representing clients in litigation and arbitration, regulatory, and transactional matters. The firm is internationally recognized for its representation of Fortune 500 companies in high-stakes litigation, as well as its ongoing commitment to pro bono service and diversity. The firm has offices in Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange County, London, and Brussels.

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