By Reg Chapman


MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Police have made an arrest in the case of a Metro Transit bus driver who was brutally attacked on the job last week.

The assault happened last week on the Route 5 bus in north Minneapolis. A rider caught the entire unprovoked beating on camera and posted it to social media.

“I don’t know anybody who can look at this video and think that it is anything less than disgusting,” said Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla.

Since then, transit police officers have been searching for the suspect.

On Wednesday morning, police said they’d taken 26-year-old Sterling Verloz Smith into custody, and he’s being held on charges of third-degree assault, and obstructing operation of a transit vehicle. He may also receive a fourth-degree assault charge, according to police documents.

(credit: Hennepin County Jail)

The attack left the bus driver with blood on his nose and upper lip, an abrasion to his right eyelid, and several scrapes on his forehead, according to the complaint.

“When we saw the video on Facebook, we were disgusted. When I saw it, I cried,” said Christy Bailly, Metro Transit’s director of bus transportation.

The driver told police he was suffering from double-vision as a result of the assault, as well. He’s still resting at home.

“We have measures in place to protect our riders and operators, and would-be offenders, we need you to know it may take hours days months, we will find you and we will bring you to justice,” said Metro Transit Police Cpt. Anthony Hines said.

Transit officials say shortly before the assault, three women boarded a bus at Emerson and 15th Avenue North and one started swearing. When the driver asked her to stop, one woman became combative, so authorities were called and the bus was stopped.

In the meantime, a woman who was already on the bus called her boyfriend, identified in the complaint as Smith, who came to the stopped bus to meet her.

After escorting her off the bus, Smith began attacking the driver.

“No one took an opportunity to step in and help,” Metro Transit western district captain Anthony Hines said. “It was disheartening.”

Smith told investigators the driver used a pointed racial slur. Investigators say no statement was heard on the audio. He then told investigators, “I took it the wrong way possibly.”

The attack has some bus operators calling for barriers to be put in place to protect drivers from attacks.

Union leaders say the video is an example at the growing number of assaults operators face.

“I don’t know the overall numbers, but what I’ve seen in the last few weeks it is on an uptick,” said Ryan Timlin, ATU Local 1005 president.

A six-month pilot program has these barriers on 20 buses. Union officials say the driver would not have been attacked if a barrier was in place.

The union will push to expand the number of buses with barriers, and for added police presence on routes.

Metro Transit officials say a committee of both drivers and managers will study the effectiveness of the barriers before deciding if more are needed.

Reg Chapman