Minneapolis man charged with assaulting Metro Transit bus driver

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Sterling Smith

A Minneapolis man has been charged with third-degree assault in the beating of a Metro Transit bus driver on April 10.

Sterling Smith, 26, is expected to appear in court on Thursday, while the driver remains at home recovering from the incident.

"[The bus driver] wanted me to tell you that he is a man of faith he has been praying for this man," said Metro Transit Bus Transportation director Christy Bailly. "His family and his church members have been praying for this man to get the help he needs."

The incident began when his bus was at a stop near the intersection of Emerson and 15th Avenue North in Minneapolis and three women boarded the bus. According to the criminal complaint, one of the women was standing near the driver and swearing, so he asked her to stop using the language.

She became more uncooperative, so the driver called police to have them come and remove her. 

Another woman then approached the driver to ask why the bus wasn’t moving. At that point, the first woman was saying that the driver had made racial comments. While up at the front of the bus, the other woman was on her phone with her boyfriend, Smith, and she told him she was on the 5F and where they were stopped.

A short time later, Smith arrived at the bus and escorted his girlfriend off. According to the complaint, Smith got back on the bus, asked the driver "you wanna go?" and began striking the driver in the head. The driver was able to activate his alarm and Smith fled.

When police arrived, they found the driver with blood on his nose and upper lip, a cut to his right eye lid and scrapes to his forehead. The driver also said he was suffering from double vision, a condition that continued for at least two more days.

Police found Smith who told them he thought he heard the driver use a racial slur. However, police investigators said the entire incident was recorded and no such statement is heard. Smith was confronted with the audio and replied, "I took it the wrong way possibly."

It's the latest incident of violence against transit employees after the issue became a central issue in contract negotiations earlier this year, sparking a conversation about how best to keep safe those whose job it is to get us from Point A to Point B.

The Amalgamated Transit Union, the union that represents Metro Transit employees, is currently working on a pilot program to install more than a dozen buses with glass shields and other technology to better protect drivers, though the bus in question did not have such a barrier.

Smith's first court appearance is scheduled for Thursday.