Arns Davis Law Files Lawsuit Against BART on Behalf of Family of Nia Wilson

From the San Francisco Chronicle

Just days after BART kicked off a security blitz aimed at curbing fare evaders, the family of a woman killed last year on an Oakland station platform has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the transit agency, saying its latest efforts are too little, too late.

The suit alleges that heightened security could have spared the life of Nia Wilson, an 18-year-old woman who was fatally stabbed in the neck at the MacArthur BART Station. Her alleged killer, John Lee Cowell, 28, was a serial fare evader and should have never gained entry, the family’s attorneys say.

“Plaintiffs contend that had BART taken adequate measures to prevent fare evaders from entering BART’s stations, platforms or trains, Nia Wilson would not have died,” the suit states.

Wilson’s family is asking for not only monetary relief but a judge’s order to compel systemwide safety measures that BART has embraced sporadically and in select locations.

The measures laid out in the lawsuit would include consistent staffing and policies to block fare evaders at all BART stations, as well as a “Nia Wilson Crime Statistics Notice,” which would display crime metrics for the last four years at each specific station.

At about 9:30 p.m. on July 22, Wilson and her sisters Letifah and Tashiya Wilson were exiting a train at the MacArthur Station and headed to board a train bound for Warm Springs.

As the sisters were boarding the car, police said, Cowell attacked both Nia and Letifah Wilson — slashing Nia across the neck and stabbing Letifah in her neck. Letifah Wilson survived the attack, while her younger sister bled out on the platform.

Cowell, a transient who was recently released from prison, was arrested the following day after a massive regionwide manhunt. He is currently charged with murder and attempted murder. His attorney has argued that he is incompetent to stand trial.

Letifah and Tashiya Wilson, as well as Nia Wilson’s parents, father Ansar El Muhammad and mother Alicia Grayson, are alleging common carrier liability, negligence and dangerous condition of public property, among other claims.

Since Wilson’s death, BART officials have boosted security measures by locking some swing gates, building taller walls around some paid areas of stations and enlisting more civilian fare enforcement officers. They also put out concerted patrols for several days in August and starting again this week in efforts to curb fare evaders.

Friday’s lawsuit claims that BART officials knew about the link between fare evasion and crime, and the agency shouldn’t have waited until after Wilson’s death to implement changes.

“This lawsuit is part of Nia Wilson’s family’s commitment to hold BART accountable for cleaning up its system,” family attorneys Robert Arns and Jonathan Davis said in a statement. “No one else should have to suffer because of BART’s failure to protect its riders.”

In a statement, BART spokesman James K. Allison said agency officials “continue to express our deepest condolences to the friends and family of Nia Wilson. However, we do not comment on potential or pending litigation.”

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