Family of Nia Wilson files wrongful death claim against BART

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Jonathan Davis, Arns Law Firm/Courtesy

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The family of Nia Wilson, an 18-year-old woman who was stabbed to death at the MacArthur BART station platform in Oakland on July 22, filed a claim against the transit agency Aug. 17.

The claim alleges a link between fare evasion and violent crime on BART and that BART could have taken measures to prevent suspect John Cowell from entering the platform.

Attorney Jonathan Davis of Arns Law Firm filed the claim representing Wilson’s father, Ansar El Muhammad, who saw Wilson dead and her sister Letifah injured on the platform after the stabbings. The claim alleged BART is accountable for Nia Wilson’s death, Letifah Wilson’s injuries and the emotional distress caused to Letifah Wilson, El Muhammad, Tashiya Wilson — Nia and Letifah Wilson’s sister who witnessed the attack — and Wilson’s mother.

The claim alleges that “BART failed to meet its duty as a common carrier” to treat passengers with vigilance and care. According to the claim, Cowell allegedly threatened two passengers weeks before Wilson’s death. The claim states that the two passengers allegedly attempted to report these incidents to BART personnel but found no personnel present.

The claim also alleges that Cowell did not pay a fare to enter the platform on the day of the stabbings and that BART stations lacked adequate barriers, surveillance and staff to prevent fare evasion. According to the claim, “there is a direct correlation between fare evasion and the incidence of crime,” and a lack of fare evasion prevention allowed Cowell to allegedly enter the platform freely and stab Nia and Letifah Wilson.

BART published a proposed Safety and Security Action Plan on Aug. 6, acknowledging the stabbing of Nia Wilson as influencing the plan. The BART board of directors approved aspects of the plan to move forward immediately, including increased BART Police Department presence. The board also voted to install platform emergency call boxes and updated surveillance cameras over the next 4 1/2 years.

“We at BART express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Nia Wilson,” BART spokesperson James Allison said in an email. “We can’t comment on pending litigation but we can say that safety is our top priority and we remain committed to do all we can to ensure a safe trip for our riders.”

The claim filed by the Wilson family urges BART to implement policies to prevent fare evasion and crime and to provide information to the public about previous criminal activity at each BART station in the form of a “Nia Wilson Crime Statistics Notice,” in addition to financial compensation the family seeks for Nia Wilson’s death, Letifah Wilson’s injuries and the family’s emotional distress.

“What the family wants is justice for Nia and her legacy, and for her sisters, and for the family and the community’s loss,” Davis said. “They don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”