Muni video vault: Bus drivers' misconduct

I-Team exposé
January 31, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
This is a rare, behind the scenes look at Muni's most complained about bus drivers. You'll see them as they swear, crash and leave disabled passengers on the curb, and it's all courtesy of Muni's own surveillance cameras.

It's really been a long haul. More than a year ago, we first started asking Muni for information on their problem drivers, and we had to sue the city to get Muni to release these videos. After watching them, we can understand why they wanted to keep them secret.

Accidents and injuries, insults and threats. These are the videos Muni doesn't want the public to see -- the 25 drivers who get the most complaints, showing why they're part of that select group.

We asked Muni for on-board surveillance videos from its buses last April, but they refused. The drivers' union joined forces with the city in court to stop them from being released.

"When videotapes are used for disciplinary purposes, we feel that they're confidential and that that should be part of the operator's personnel file and dealt with that way. It's not public information," says Irwin Lum, president of the bus drivers' union.

But we sued the city, and just before Christmas last year, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the videos were public records that had to be released.

Muni only keeps surveillance videos on file for a serious incident. There are 167 videos in the stack, all for those 25 drivers... drivers such as Anthony Jones. It's April 2006. A woman is boarding his bus through the back door with her four children -- ages nine to 12 -- when the bus unexpectedly starts moving with the back doors still open. The woman screams. Other passengers call out to the driver, but Jones just keeps on driving. The driver can be heard saying, "ain't nobody hanging out the back door. I'm looking at the back door. Mind your business."

"There's an obvious problem going on here, all these people are screaming. There's bedlam going on in the whole back of the bus," says Robert Johnson, a witness.

Robert Johnson was on the bus that day. He says he can't believe Jones didn't stop to find out what was wrong.

"He refused to listen to it. He refused to slow the bus down. He refused to stop to figure out what was going on," says Johnson.

Jones keeps driving, even after a passenger tells him that two children have fallen off the bus, saying, "nobody fell out the back. Oh, I'm sorry. Have a good day. Thank you." Then, the angry mother confronts him saying, "what in the f*** is wrong with you? You idiotic mother f*****. You just left my kids." She then throws a soda in his face.

Jones chases her off the bus and makes a citizen's arrest for assaulting a Muni driver. Passengers watch as police arrive.

"Now he's going to try to explain himself like he's a victim. He wasn't no damn victim. He left somebody's kids behind," says a woman on the tape.

Luckily, the children weren't injured. While police issue the woman a citation, Jones explains his actions to another passenger. "If you illegally boarding through the back door, whatever happens to you happens to you. You have no business going through that back door."

We found complaints about similar incidents in Jones' file, like one from February 2006, which says he shut a five-year-old girl's leg in the door. A passenger wrote, "I was screaming at him... please open the back door, but he wouldn't... he was laughing and... eating his peanuts... Please do something. This is scary."

Another wrote that when the girl's leg was finally freed, Jones "drove away, without checking to see if the little girl was okay."

"When you run across drivers like this -- I've never run across anything like it in my life, I have to tell you that," says Florence Hough, a disabled Muni rider.

Florence Hough says she's not surprised Jones has so many complaints against him. Out of 1,850 drivers at Muni, Jones has the second-most complaints -- 95 in three years -- fourteen of those from disabled passengers, including Hough.

"He might be number two. I can't believe there's a number one. I thought that he would be number one," says Hough.

Hough was paralyzed when a drunk driver crashed into her parked car four years ago. Now, she relies on Muni for transportation. When she boarded Jones' bus in June 2006, he was immediately hostile, saying, "I don't know what the heck they let you guys on here for anyhow."

Hough doesn't appreciate the comment and says, "Y'all hear that? The driver said I ain't got no rights. Wait till I call Muni."

A few minutes later, Jones tells Hough to get off the bus, and when she refuses, he puts the bus out of service. So Hough calls Muni to complain. "He says from now on when I get on his bus, he will be sure not to pick me up. He says you damn wheelchairs get on my nerves," says Hough on the tape.

Four months later, they meet again. Hough waits on the curb with her caregiver while other passengers board the bus.

"The doors open, he looked at me, and I looked up at him. He closed the doors and took off with both of us standing there," says Hough.

That also was caught on video.

Jones: "Catch the next bus."

Hough: "Pardon me?"

Jones: "Catch the next one."

Hough: "Why?"

Jones: "I told you to."

Hough filed another complaint. Muni held a hearing and found it to be valid, but officials won't tell us whether Jones was disciplined.

Jones has three other valid complaints from disabled passengers during those three years. In one case, Jones shut the bus doors on a woman with a cane who was recovering from hip surgery. Muni found that to be a case of "confirmed misconduct," and issued Jones a two-day suspension. However, he filed a grievance through the union and the discipline was dropped.

Irwin Lum, president of the bus drivers' union, says drivers' discipline records should not be open to the public.

"It's a private matter between the operator and Muni and the union. And it's not saying that things are thrown under the carpet, nothing's done. It's just that those matters are private proceedings and it should be private," says Lum.

Muni boss Nat Ford has refused to talk to us for a year, so we caught up with him at a Muni board meeting this week to ask if problem drivers are getting proper discipline.

"Because most disciplinary matters are personnel matters, so we don't share that with the public, but we do take corrective action when any of our employees are not performing up to our standards," says Ford.

But Florence Hough says that's not good enough.

"It's not enough just saying ADA, or we'll talk to him, or we'll send it to his supervisor. They need some kind of immediate resolution with these type of operators because they're getting away with murder, if you ask me," says Hough.

Muni says it doesn't comment on personnel issues, but did confirm that Anthony Jones still works there as a transit operator. We tried to reach Jones for comment through his union, but didn't hear back.

In part two of our report (on Friday), we'll explain why city leaders and activists believe Jones may have broken federal law.

You can read more about our efforts to obtain Muni videos and watch uncut surveillance video from this story in the I-Team blog here. (We've also posted the uncut video in the media player above)

Stay tuned throughout the month of February for more stories from Muni's video vault.