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Originally published February 12, 2010 at 9:20 PM | Page modified February 13, 2010 at 3:25 PM

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Victim says bus-tunnel attack could have been prevented

Aiesha Steward-Baker, whose brutal beating sparked a review of Metro Transit security and prompted the posting of armed sheriff's deputies in Seattle's transit tunnel, said police and security guards could have prevented the attack.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Aiesha Steward-Baker, whose brutal beating sparked a review of Metro Transit security and prompted the posting of armed sheriff's deputies in Seattle's transit tunnel, said police and security guards could have prevented the attack.

Steward-Baker, 15, broke into tears twice during a news conference Friday as she recounted what happened Jan. 28 when she was punched, stomped and kicked by another 15-year-old girl in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel while unarmed security guards watched.

It was the first time the Ingraham High School student has spoken publicly since the attack.

"I'm angry about what they did to me," Steward-Baker said about the group of young people charged with attacking and robbing her. "And the police officers [who] could have prevented it and the security guards could have prevented it."

She said she approached Seattle police and asked for help several times in the hour before the attack after she encountered the group in Westlake Center and Macy's. While she was in the department store, she said, one of the boys in the other group moved in close to her with his fist balled, she said.

Police witnessed that, she said, but simply told the other group to leave the store. Steward-Baker said police ignored her when she tried to explain that the group would be waiting for her outside if she tried to leave the store.

"I was trying to explain that the kids were following and threatening me, which both officers witnessed, but the police officer just wasn't listening," said Steward-Baker.

The officers also told her to leave the area, she said, but refused her request for an escort into the tunnel.

Seattle police have said they did everything they could to separate the girl from the other group, but that officers did not witness unlawful behavior before the attack.

Police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb on Thursday characterized the situation between the girl and the other group of young people as "a roving, verbal dispute."

"If there were any threats, we were not told of them," he said.

But Steward-Baker insisted Friday that she told the two officers she had been threatened.

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Steward-Baker said that once she was inside Westlake Station, she approached the security guards for help, but was ignored by them as well.

"They never said anything to me. They never replied," she said.

It was immediately after she approached the unarmed security guards that she was attacked by another girl.

The images of that attack were captured by surveillance video, including the reaction of the guards, who are ordered to "observe and report" and not intervene in assaults.

On Friday afternoon, the Seattle Police Department announced it was conducting an internal review of the officers' actions that evening to determine whether they handled the situation properly.

According to a news release, interim Police Chief John Diaz initiated a review that will also address the "larger issue of how the King County Sheriff's Office and the Seattle Police Department can jointly address public-safety priorities for citizens who use public transportation within the City of Seattle."

James Bible, the girl's attorney and head of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said during the news conference at Seattle's First AME Church that he expects to file suit in connection with the incident, and is reviewing potential defendants, including King County, Seattle police, King County Metro and the private security firm that contracts with Metro.

Four people were arrested in the attack: the 15-year-old alleged assailant (who is not being named because she has been charged in juvenile court); Latroy Hayman, 20; Tyrone Watson, 18; and Dominique Whitaker, 18.

All four have been charged with first-degree robbery, a charge that could bring sentences of between two to four years, prosecutors said.

Friends and relatives of the four suspects have said the incident has been blown out of proportion. They said the two girls have fought each other often over the past two years, and that Steward-Baker has usually won.

"The only reason this is different is because it was caught on video," said Whitaker's sister, 16-year-old Nicole Calvin. Bible confirmed that Steward-Baker knew her attackers, but said it was only because they had harassed and bullied her before.

He declined to discuss specifics of the previous encounters, saying the incident in the tunnel was the focus of the news conference.

Bible said the police internal investigation was not enough.

He said what happened — and what didn't happen — illustrates how people of color in the Seattle area are often "overpoliced and underserved."

Minorities are often approached aggressively when they've done nothing, but dismissed when they ask for help, he said.

"If this young lady had blond hair and blue eyes and went to police and said that a group of African Americans are harassing me," he said, "do you think the response would be different?"

The girl's mother, Letta Steward-Baker, spoke about the shock she felt when she first viewed the video.

"I was just outraged that grown people would stand there and allow that to happen," she said. "These are children."

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times archives

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