Reported rape on Caltrain slips through the cracks

OPINION

BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor

The Post printed a startling story Wednesday about a Caltrain conductor accused of raping a 22-year-old Mountain View woman in an employees-only area of a deserted train.

The story raises more questions than there are answers.

What little we know about this April 19, 2017, incident comes from a claim the woman’s attorney has filed against Caltrain. (Claims against government agencies are a public record. We got the claim last week after making a public records request.) So while Caltrain and law enforcement never said a word about this alleged rape report after it happened, the claim gives the woman’s side of the story, albeit a year later.

The woman’s story

The claim says that the woman, after a night of heavy drinking in San Francisco’s Marina District, took a Lyft to the Caltrain station and boarded the 12:05 a.m. train home to Mountain View.

While she was on the nearly empty platform waiting for the train two men in conductor uniforms and a guy in a maintenance uniform were leering at her, her claim says.

When she got on the train, one of the conductors approached her and led her by the hand down the aisle to the employees-only area, according to the claim.

The claim admits the woman was so intoxicated she had trouble walking and couldn’t remember many details about the conductor.
The next thing she knows, she’s having sex with the conductor, the claim states.

She’s so intoxicated, the claim says, that she couldn’t resist nor provide consent.

The next day she went to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, where a rape kit examination revealed vaginal tearing and male DNA, according to the claim.

Even if the conductor says it was consensual — a typical defense — an intoxicated person cannot give consent under state law.

A big contradiction

Here’s the fishy part. Caltrain says that the allegations of assault were investigated by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department — which has the law enforcement contract for Caltrain — and the case was referred to the District Attorney’s office, which declined to prosecute.

But when the Post checked with Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti, who handles sex crimes for the DA’s office, she said no such crime had been submitted for prosecution.

• What happened to this case?

The identity of the conductor is apparently known to Caltrain, because in a statement to the Post, Caltrain said “the individual named in the claim no longer works” for the contractor who provides conductors to the railroad.

• Has the suspected conductor’s DNA been compared to the DNA obtained during the examination of the woman?

• Was there any video of the incident? Caltrain has a lot of surveillance cameras.

• Why, when the Post asked the Sheriff’s Department for information on this case, did they refer us to the PR department of Caltrain? Since Caltrain and its agents, such as the conductor, will be scrutinized in a criminal investigation, why should that agency be allowed to speak for law enforcement?

• Why was this reported rape kept under wraps by Caltrain and the sheriff’s office? Passengers have a right to know about safety issues such as a report of rape on a train.

• Where are the #MeToo advocates who were angered by the lenient sentence given to Stanford swimmer Brock Turner? This case bears two troubling similarities to that of Turner. The victim was intoxicated, which made her an easier target. And the perpetrator got a light punishment, in this case the loss of a job, but no criminal prosecution.

Demand answers

The community ought to be turning up the heat on Caltrain and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s office, demanding answers.

Here’s a list of Caltrain’s board of directors:

• Redwood City Councilman Jeff Gee,

• Belmont City Councilman Charles Stone,

• San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine,

• Los Altos Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins,

• Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez,

• San Jose Councilwoman Devora Davis,

• San Francisco MTA board member Cheryl Brinkman,

• San Francisco Supervisors appointee Gillian Gillett, and

• San Francisco Deputy Controller Monique Zmuda.

Nobody on this list is directly elected to Caltrain’s board. Most are elected to other posts and then appointed to the Caltrain board. Nonetheless, you can still demand that that they investigate this case, and if the allegations are true, make sure this never happens again on a Caltrain.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is price@padailypost.com.

4 Comments

  1. Ive taken those late-night trains and have been worried about the other passengers, who seem different from the commute crowd. Never worried about the conductors. There’s video cameras on these trains, so that should help solidify this woman’s story.

  2. Caltrain has video of the view outward from the engineer’s cab to document collisions and other incidents. They’ve recently also added inward-facing video to serve as a cockpit recorder to document what the engineer was doing in the cab around the time of any incidents or crashes. Not sure if it that was operational yet in April of 2017 … also, that video may only record what occurred in the cab at the front of the train. (It sounds like this reported rape may have occurred in the rear-facing cab, which would have been dark and deserted since the engineer is always in the forward-facing cab.) Additionally, I do not believe Caltrain currently records or keeps video covering the passenger seating areas (such as BART now does after replacing all their ceiling-mounted decoy cameras with real ones).

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