On a sunny, breezy day earlier this year I took the trolley to work. I had a new internship at Voice of San Diego, a new attitude, I was feeling good that day. That changed quickly.
Two security officers, Bill Buck and an officer I still know only by his name plate, B. Edwards, stepped onto the trolley and asked passengers to show their tickets. I was brand new to commuting by trolley, but knew this to be standard procedure.
I’m a student at Southwestern College, which has an arrangement with MTS that lets students ride at a discounted rate. If you take advantage of the deal, a sticker on your student ID functions as your trolley ticket. When my turn came, I presented my Southwestern College ID, just as I had the day before to different officers, with no issues.
But when I showed my ID to Buck, he quickly got agitated and said I had the wrong sticker – no further explanation.
“Get off the trolley!” he shouted, then walked away to check other tickets.
I was surprised and embarrassed. Thinking it is a misunderstanding, I approached Buck and pointed out my sticker.
That’s when things went downhill.
He raised his voice and said, “Now you’re going to get a citation. Get off the trolley, now!”
Off the trolley we went, and Buck became irate.
I asked him to clarify what sticker I needed, explaining that I’m a new trolley passenger and I didn’t know the procedure. Buck didn’t want to hear it. He asked me to sign a citation. I did, but he didn’t approve of my signature.
“Let’s try this again,” he said. “Let’s make it look like your signature on the license this time.”
I felt like a child being scolded. How dare I question his authority. How dare I ask questions.
When I realized this exchange was getting worse, I decided to write down the officers’ names. Since their name plates identifies them by their first initial and last name, I asked Buck for his first name.
“It’s B. Buck,” he said angrily. He refused to tell me his first name.
I didn’t want the situation to escalate, so I decided to stop asking questions, walk away and think about what just happened.
As he was berating me, Buck asked me if I was Hispanic.
My situation was one an officer like Buck – whose job is to monitor trolley tickets – must encounter countless times a day. The fact that an incident so minor, and questions so basic, would set him off to such a degree is disturbing.
Indeed, when I got to work –with a $200 citation – I was still shaken and upset. When another reporter asked what happened, we looked Buck up together.
It turns out my encounter with Buck wasn’t the first time he’d allowed a minor miscommunication escalate into something much worse.
Buck has been named in at least two lawsuits accusing him in violent incidents that share some commonalities with what I experienced.
In one, Buck was accused of harassing and then physically beating a Mexican man traveling on the trolley with his wife. In another, Buck was accused of beating and knocking unconscious an Iraqi immigrant who he thought was trespassing on the MTS lot – even though the man worked there, and his supervisor confirmed that fact to Buck.
Unfortunate incidents like this can become great learning opportunities. My experience with Buck was infuriating, but it was also an opportunity to learn about investigative journalism and realize that a story can flourish from simple daily encounters.
Telling the story of my incident and those experienced by others also presents an opportunity for MTS to take positive measures and implement a solution that’ll improve their passengers’ experience.