MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - Two good Samaritans told the Fox 9 Investigators about the night four riders attacked them on a Metro Transit bus after the couple tried retrieving a passenger’s lost wallet.
Robert Villanueva and Tyler Bell say the bus driver did nothing to prevent or stop the fight. But, Metro Transit officials claim the driver did his job correctly that night.
Video cameras on the bus captured the brawl.
It was 10 p.m. on August 30 last summer when Villanueva and Bell boarded the 18 bus on Nicollet Mall. They stood near the front of the bus.
At the next stop, a passenger got off the bus, but then started banging on the window; he left his wallet on the bus.
“He’s trying to get his wallet,” said one of the passengers.
Another passenger can be heard saying, “F—k that wallet. That wallet ain’t got s—t.”
Villanueva believes someone had already rifled through the man’s wallet. “They said this baller didn’t have anything in his wallet. They were talking about dispersing the contents of the wallet among themselves,” Villanueva said.
In the video, Villanueva is heard saying, “Someone left their wallet here?”
A passenger said: “No, he didn’t leave it here.”
“I just want to make sure he gets it back; I have left s—t on the bus before,” Villanueva responded back.
“Doing the right thing I said, ’is there a wallet?’ expecting we could give it to driver and it would be returned to the young man.” said Villanueva. “I was assertive, not aggressive. I said, ‘is there a wallet?’” “And this enraged them and within seconds, and for no reason, became really angry; they were like a swarm of bees.”
Two of the women in the group confronted Villanueva and Bell, including a woman with a baby in a stroller.
The screams overwhelmed the audio on the video.
Villanueva leaned over and asked the bus driver to call police, but the driver shrugged his shoulders and appeared lighthearted about the ruckus, smiling with another passenger.
“He’s laughing and making fun of us and says something to the effect of, ‘wallet? Where’s the wallet?,’” recalled Villanueva.
Villanueva said he tried to deescalate the situation. He heard someone say, “Wait for them to get off the bus.” He said he felt trapped.
“I knew if we had gotten off the bus, we would’ve been attacked off the bus and now there’d be no cameras,” said Villanueva.
A minute later, he asked the driver once more to call police. The driver hit an alert button, right as it turned into an all-out brawl.
By this time two men joined the two women. One of the men grabbed the overhead rail to deliver a flying kick to Villanueva.
Villanueva said he was forced to fight back.
The driver told dispatch “there’s a fight going on.” “It’s getting crazy.” “Fists are swinging."
“Immediately, I’m fighting everyone. I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I’m fighting for my life,” Villanueva told the Fox 9 Investigators.
One of the assailants put Villanueva in a chokehold and slammed his head into the fare box.
As the bus was stopped, the women jumped Bell and dragged her off the bus by the hair.
And that’s where the brawl continued outside at 12th & Nicollet.
The group stole their backpack, phones, and wallet.
Villanueva and Bell were left bruised, bloody, and with broken teeth.
“He said 'if you keep chasing us you’re going to get shot,'” said Bell.
Robert followed them long enough for police to move in and arrest four young people.
Sharahyah Batchelor, 20, who had the baby in a stroller, was charged with assault and robbery. She’s on the run.
Angalie Naidu, 22, was convicted by a jury of robbery and assault and is currently serving three years in the Minnesota Correction Facility in Shakopee.
Darryl Billups, 20 plead guilty and is looking at four years in prison. During a recent court appearance, he told the Fox 9 Investigators: “It’s not like I shot him in the leg or anything.”
A fourth suspect, who is a 17-year old, will be sent to a group home for nine months.
BUS DRIVER’S ROLE
Months after the harrowing assault, what still bothers Villanueva is the bus driver’s cavalier attitude and the minute he waited before calling dispatch.
“I personally believe he was incompetent,” he said. “There are some people who should just not be doing that job.”
When asked if the driver waited too long to call for help, Metro Transit’s Brian Funk, Head of Operations, said, “We have the benefit of hindsight, right?”
“I think the operator, regardless of when he called the police, did a great job of calling in with a suspect description that led multiple people being picked up within minutes,” continued Funk.
“I’m okay with how he handled it. What I could see, I think he called at the right time,” said Funk.
But the Metro Transit Police investigation gives a different impression. The report reads. “Victim one can be seen begging with the operator to call the cops… but does not call the police.”
And despite the video evidence, the bus driver told police it was “the male and female claiming to be the victims who started the altercation…”
When asked if drivers should not engage because the suspects might turn on the driver, Funk replied, “Our bus drivers are not trained as police officers. I don’t want them to go in and grab people by the shirt collars and pull them apart. That’s not the role we are seeking.”
This particular bus did not have a barrier protecting the driver from passengers, which will be installed on 150 buses this summer.
In 2018, there were 104 aggravated assaults on metro transit buses, nearly twice as many as a couple of years ago. There were also 174 robberies, 511 thefts and three rapes - and perhaps most concerning for Metro Transit, a two million decline in ridership.
There may have been a reason this bus driver, who FOX 9 is not naming, didn't want to get involved in that altercation last August. He was under a “last chance” agreement with Metro Transit.
A year earlier, June 6, 2017, while working as a Metro Transit driver, he allegedly assaulted a drunk passenger who didn't pay his fare. Criminal gross misdemeanor charges of 5th degree assault and disorderly conduct were eventually dismissed, for reasons that were not part of the public record.
Metro Transit initially told the FOX 9 Investigators the driver had no disciplinary actions taken against him during his 12 year career with Metro Transit. But when told of the criminal charges the driver once faced, Metro Transit produced documents showing the driver had been terminated on June 30, 2017.
However, the driver was reinstated six weeks later, on August 22, 2017, as part of a “last chance” agreement. The agreement, which Metro Transit provided, also included conditions limiting unexcused absences. The driver would be on probation until August 22, 2020.
The driver left Metro Transit on March 8, 2019. Efforts to reach him at his home or via phone were unsuccessful.
SHOULDN’T BE DRIVING?
It also appears that during two separate periods that overlap with his employment at Metro Transit, the driver did not have the correct licensure.
From October 2018 through March 2019, his commercial drivers license was withdrawn because he lacked a medical certificate, according to records from the Department of Vehicular Services. It was cancelled for 38 days in 2017.
His commercial drivers license was reinstated shortly after he left Metro Transit.
Metro Transit will not comment on whether they were aware of the lapses in the drivers license before we brought it to their attention.
Through a spokesperson Metro Transit released the following statement:
“Providing safe transportation to all of our riders is at the heart of everything Metro Transit does. Metro Transit never knowingly allows any employee to operate a Metro Transit vehicle, including buses or trains, without the appropriate and valid license.
Protocols for bus and train operators are in place to help ensure this. Those include supplying Metro Transit garages with daily information from the Minnesota Department of Vehicle Services regarding any operator whose license may be expired. Additionally, an operator failing to report any issues with his or her licensure to their supervisor is cause for disciplinary action.
"It is never acceptable to have an unlicensed person operating any Metro Transit vehicle."
“DRIVE CHANGE” INITIATIVE
In talking to Fox 9 about this story, Metro Transit’s Operations Manager, Brian Funk, highlighted Metro Transit’s new campaign to promote respect, kindness, and inclusivity.
It recommends that riders who see a situation to step in and directly intervene if they feel safe to do so.
It also recommends, “distract them, by asking what they think of the weather?” The campaign also offers a number to text for safety.
Notably, the one thing the campaign doesn’t suggest is talking to the bus driver.