Family of Nia Wilson files wrongful death lawsuit against BART Police

The family says police failed to have appropriate security measures in place that could have prevented the death in July.

Nia Wilson John Cowell
Nia Wilson | John Cowell

The family of an 18-year-old girl has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against San Francisco transit agency, BART, for failing to have appropriate security measures in place that could have prevented her death in July.

The suit blames lackluster security as a factor in the death of Nia Wilson, who was allegedly stabbed in the neck and killed at the MacArthur BART Station in Oakland, Calif., by John Lee Cowell, 28, in the brutal attack. Cowell was a serial fare evader and legally shouldn’t have even had access to ride the BART that day, according to the family’s lawyer who released a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle.

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“This lawsuit is part of Nia Wilson’s family’s commitment to hold BART accountable for cleaning up its system,” family attorney’s Robert Arns and Jonathan Davis said in a statement, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “No one else should have to suffer because of BART’s failure to protect its riders.”

Had BART better-enforced measures to prevent fare evaders from entering its stations, platforms or trains, “Nia Wilson would not have died,” the suit alleges.

The lawsuit announcement comes on the heels of a new initiative that BART just kicked off to reduce the number of fare evaders.

BART officials have also tightened security by locking some swing gates, erecting taller walls around some station areas where fare evaders were gaining access and hiring more fare enforcement officers, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

In a statement, BART spokesman James K. Allison said the agency continues to “express our deepest condolences to the friends and family of Nia Wilson” but said per agency policy, he couldn’t comment on the pending lawsuit.

In the suit, Wilson’s family is also asking that a judge mandate that BART implement agency-wide safety precautions in a uniform way—not only in select places. For example, the lawsuit calls for a consistent level of staffing and the implementation of policies to block fare evaders at all BART stations.

They also want a “Nia Wilson Crime Statistics Notice,” posted at each station, that would accurately show BART riders crime metrics over the past four years.

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On July 22, Wilson and her sisters Letifah and Tashiya Wilson, were getting off of a train at the MacArthur Station, in route to a train headed for Warm Springs. As they boarded the second train, Cowell is alleged to have attacked both Nia and Letifah by slashing them across the neck with a knife. Letifah survived but her younger sister, Nia, succumbed to her injuries.

Police said Cowell was a transient who had recently gotten out of prison.

Cowell was charged with murder and attempted murder. His lawyer is arguing that he is incompetent to stand trial.