A 59-year-old Uruguayan woman, who does not speak English, alleges that she was kicked and assaulted into unconsciousness by two male St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers while on a Greyhound bus on August 28.
“When I’ve seen the news reports on TV, I thought it was exaggerated,” Anna Villella told The St. Louis American in Spanish on August 29. “But now that it’s happened to me, I know it’s not exaggerated. They hit me. I’m an older woman and should not be treated this way.”
The incident occurred at the downtown Greyhound station at about 9 a.m. on August 28, according to the police report.
Villella, who works in public relations and cultural management in Uruguay, is visiting the United States on a six-month tourist visa. She was on her way from Chicago to Topeka, Kansas to visit her daughter and newly born grandson. St. Louis was meant to be just a stop, but her bus was delayed, she said. While she waited, Villella gave the bus attendants her bag and they put it on the bus to Topeka. Greyhound officials later her told that it was not her bus, she said, but in broken English she tried to explain that she had already put her bag on the bus.
No one at the station spoke Spanish, and Villella alleges that the staff made fun of her when she tried to speak to them in English. A police spokesperson said that Villella initially spoke to Greyhound officials in English, but “then suddenly stopped and only spoke in Spanish.”
In a statement emailed to The American, Greyhound officials said that the company “takes allegations of discrimination very seriously as we have a zero tolerance policy for this type of behavior. After reviewing records of the incident, we found staff attempted to translate by using their mobile devices and using the assistance of fellow Spanish-speaking customers.”
In a panic, Villella seated herself in the bus, she said, and Greyhound officials threatened to call the police if she didn’t get off.
According to a police spokesperson, officers received a call for “general peace disturbance” shortly before 9 a.m. at the Greyhound station, located at 430 S. 15th St. The responding officers were Thomas C. Streckfuss and Jeffrey Charles Gavin, according to the police report. The officers did not speak Spanish or attempt to get a translator, Villella said.
“The call was relative to a female who was yelling and pushing other passengers while attempting to get on the bus,” the spokesperson stated in an email to The American.
Greyhound officials first attempted to remove Villella, the police spokesperson stated, but then called the police.
“Our officers responded and asked the female several times to exit the bus,” according to police. “When the female continuously refused to exit the bus, officers had to physically remove her.”
The spokeswoman did not comment on the allegation that the officers kicked Villella so hard in the side that she was rendered unconscious and defecated herself.
“I thought they called the police to solve the situation, so I could get on my way,” Villella said. “It was the exact opposite. They mistreated me so badly. I wouldn’t wish this situation on anyone.”
The police gave Villella a citation for “general peace disturbance.” However, the police report states she is also being charged for resisting arrest. Villella must appear in court on October 16. On the citation, the police stated that Villella was “homeless.” In response to this, the spokesperson stated, “If it was a U.S. Passport, they do not have addresses listed.” The police report states that Villella is an Italian resident because she has an Italian passport as a descendant of Italy.
Villella was transported to Barnes-Jewish Hospital after “complaining of unknown injuries,” according to police. Friends connected Villella to activist Leticia Seitz, of Latinos en Axión. When Seitz found Villella at the hospital, Seitz told her that she was there to support her.
“And she started crying,” Seitz said. “She couldn’t even stop.”
Villella’s leg was badly injured and she couldn’t walk, so Seitz helped Villella to a hotel until her daughter could come and get her.
Seitz, Villella, and others returned the next day to try and reclaim her luggage — which was central to the conflict and confusion. Although Villella has a baggage claim ticket, they were told that Greyhound had no record of the bag.
The American obtained surveillance footage from outside the Gateway Transportation Center. It shows two white officers entering the bus at 9:18 a.m. Three minutes later, the officers carried her out unconscious by the arms and legs and laid her on the sidewalk. She was crying out in pain, rubbing her leg for at least 40 minutes as police wrote her at ticket, and no one administered medical aid. She had to use a baggage cart to walk back into the station.
In response to the incident, Greyhound stated, “If a customer does not comply with instructions, they may be denied service.”
Villella does not believe that her actions warranted being assaulted by police and then hospitalized.
She said, “It was a clear abuse of my human rights.”