Updated Friday at 7:40 p.m.
SEPTA transit police have launched an internal affairs investigation after a swarm of officers pushed a 20-year-old man who was holding his young daughter off a Market-Frankford Line train and arrested him on the platform Thursday.
SEPTA officials say officers who arrested the man Thursday evening did so because he evaded a fare and refused to provide ID and get off the train when asked. The man was identified as Ellis Smith.
“I’m concerned about the entire episode,” SEPTA Transit Police Chief Thomas Nestel said Friday. “We can’t endanger the lives of little kids over a fare evasion. That’s unacceptable.”
A video of the arrest, which occurred at the Huntingdon stop in Kensington, has circulated widely on social media and caused cries of excessive force.
Irize Earth, who posted video of the incident on Facebook (hundreds of thousands of views and growing fast) wrote that Smith was arrested for not paying a fare for his young daughter that he carried on his shoulders into the train. SEPTA’s policy is to allow children under age 4 to ride for free.
But at a news conference at SEPTA headquarters Friday afternoon, Nestel said police have testimony that Ellis did not pay his own fare of $2.25 — not the child’s fare. No video evidence exists, but a cashier at the Margaret-Orthodox station told SEPTA that Smith didn’t pay his fare.
Nestel said the officers tried to talk the rider off the train so they could peacefully cite him, but Smith refused. But that doesn’t excuse how officers behaved, especially with a child in the equation, Nestel said.
“It’s not about him. This is about us,” Nestel said. “I’m not going to change how someone in the public deals with the police. I have to change how the police deal with the public.”
Here’s video of what happened, posted via Spirit Newspapers:
Facebook user Irize Refined Earth wrote this below the posting:
So, this is the bullshit my son witnessed yesterday coming home from work. Dude’s crime? Paying $2.25 for the El, but carrying his daughter on his shoulders and not paying for her. Look at how small she is, and how he is treated by Septa & Philadelphia police, over $2.25!!! I thought Septa had a policy of allowing fareless riders the courtesy? I wish they would put hands on me while holding my kids!!! This police ‘entitlement’ mentality, which often leads to brutality, has got to stop!
As seen in the video, the officers were restraining and trying to handcuff Smith while he was still holding onto the child. Earth’s son, Ahmad Najam, took the video. Najam said other people started offering to pay the man’s fare and that the situation escalated slowly at first and then quickly once the police tried to handcuff him and get him off the train.
“They went too far, definitely,” Najam said. “It was $2.25”
Nestel said SEPTA continues to review videos and incident reports to determine why the officers arrested Smith the way they did, adding that SEPTA police take fare evasion seriously.
“But we don’t want to be rolling around on the platform with everyone charged with fare evasion,” Nestel said. “It’s not murder or rape.”
The incident happened at about 5:30 p.m. Thursday and delayed cars on the Market-Frankford Line.