A woman who said she was violently attacked while riding the Metro A Line in Long Beach earlier this year is suing the transit agency, alleging the train operator failed to stop during the assault and that Metro was aware of safety issues on its trains but failed to properly address them.
Shwe Hwee, a 53-year-old resident of San Pedro, said she was attacked on May 17 by an unidentified Hispanic woman who allegedly punched Hwee several times in the face after boarding the northbound train in Downtown.
According to the lawsuit, the attack started after an argument Hwee and her friend got into with a man who was sitting behind them. When they tried to switch train cars, Hwee said she was attacked by the woman.
The suit, dated Aug. 1, seeks unspecified damages from Metro for the emotional and physical harm the attack caused. Hwee’s suit also alleges that the incident was a hate crime, noting that Asian slurs were used during the attack.
News of the attack in May prompted Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who serves on the Metro board of directors, to call for answers as to why it took so long for law enforcement to arrive on scene.
However, in the suit, Hwee’s lawyer said that the person operating the train that day saw the attack and did not stop the train despite multiple requests from other riders. This contributed to the delay, the suit alleges, because police could not board the still-moving train.
“The conductor was aware of the assault and allowed it to continue,” the suit said.
A Metro spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Police said that the alleged attack happened between the Willow Street and Pacific Coast Highway stations but the train wasn’t stopped until the Artesia Station, which is three stations after the Willow Station.
When the train did stop, Hwee alleges that a man she’d been arguing with took her phone and threw it over the train. The woman who allegedly attacked Hwee left before police arrived to take a report, according to the lawsuit.
At the time, the Long Beach Police Department said there was no evidence to support that the alleged attack was racially motivated. In an email this week, Allison Gallagher, the department’s lead spokesperson, said that detectives have tried to interview Hwee since the incident, but as of Thursday, she has not spoken to them, so there was no new information available.
The suit alleges that the incident was “foreseeable and preventable” because of the “extensive knowledge of the dangerous condition of metro trains generally.” In its last update, Metro’s Operations, Safety and Customer Experience Committee reviewed data on crime trends across its network through May 2023.
They showed that the A Line was particularly dangerous, with 52 out of the 201 aggravated assaults Metro saw over an 11-month span.
While Metro’s data showed a decline in crime on its system between April and May, crime of all kinds was still higher than in previous years. Crimes against persons, which includes robberies, assaults, homicides and rapes, are highest on the B Line—formerly the Red Line—where 448 such crimes were reported.
The A Line had the second most reported crimes against persons: 209. That included 65 robberies, 76 batteries, 52 aggravated assaults. There have been two rapes and two homicides reported on the A Line, including a stabbing death that happened Downtown in April.
The eight A Line stops in Long Beach and other areas patrolled by LBPD accounted for about 20% of all crimes on the A Line through May, according to Metro.
Metro added nearly 200 safety ambassadors in addition to 48 new security guards earlier this year and is re-examining its contract with the LBPD, Los Angeles Police Department and the LA County Sheriffs Department, which it has paid over $900 million since 2017 to patrol its transportation network.
The Metro board is expected to get an update in January about the feasibility of creating its own police department.