By Brian Maass
ADAMS COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– A contract driver for RTD has been charged with a misdemeanor count of false imprisonment, accused by Adams County Sheriff’s investigators and a bus passenger of not allowing him to get off her bus last month.
“I’m scared to death, I don’t want to go to jail,” said Ramona Rice, who works for First Transit which provides and manages 25 percent of RTD’s drivers.
“I don’t think I did anything wrong. I wasn’t trying to hold him there. I’m shocked, I don’t know what else to say,” Rice told CBS4.
The incident unfolded early on the morning of Aug. 8 in Adams County. Rice stopped to pick up a passenger, Eric Brandt, who regularly protests police wearing a shirt that reads “F*** Cops” and carries a bulky three dimensional sign read the same thing and depicting a middle finger. He was trying to get to downtown Denver to the Taylor Swift trial where he knew there would be a lot of people who would see his protest.
“It was my intention to demonstrate near the courthouse… in furtherance of my goal to raise awareness of police misconduct and my goal to speak publicly about the importance of the public’s participation in government in order to curb the abuses of power that undermine good police work and ultimately society itself,” said Brandt.
But as he attempted to board Rice’s bus at 54th and Pecos and obtain a transfer for a second bus, Rice used her on-board radio to contact RTD. She said with a full bus, she was concerned Brandt’s sign- which she initially thought was a penis- might block the aisle and pose a safety hazard so she wanted instruction on what to do.
Brandt believes the bus driver was making a value judgment about the content of his sign. While on the radio with supervisors, Brandt can be heard saying, ”I think you better give me my transfer. You need to drive.”
In a statement, Brandt said, ”I further advised that if she did not allow me on to ride that bus she was going to have problems.”
Rice declined to move the bus for at least 10 minutes as she awaited instructions. Other passengers are heard on tape complaining about the delay.
Another bus arrived and Rice’s passengers got off her bus to get on the second bus. Brandt was the last to get off with his sign but Rice was standing at the bottom of the stairs, holding on to railings on either side, appearing to block Brandt’s way. She said she was just waiting to climb back on her bus and get Brandt a transfer for the second bus.
“I’m old and fat- that’s how I have to get on the bus,” said Rice. “Just because I had my hands on the rails to get in they’re calling that entrapment.”
Brandt said, “It was already clear to me that the Driver had a goal of keeping me from using public transit because she was offended by my speech.”
Videotape reviewed by CBS4 shows Brandt backing up several steps to allow Rice back on the bus, but she remains in place.
The standoff only lasted a few seconds before Brandt screamed, ”Get out of my way, get out of my way… you touch me… this is false imprisonment. Get out of my way or I will move you.”
With that, Brandt barreled down the stairs of the bus knocking the 60-year-old driver to the ground into a puddle of water.
After receiving medical treatment at the scene, Rice attempted to press assault and trespass charges against Brandt. An Adams County detective later reviewed tapes from the bus surveillance cameras and decided Rice was culpable.
“The footage does not corroborate the victim’s statement,” wrote Det. Luis Hernandez. “At the end of the incident, the bus driver appears, by her body positioning and placement, that she is not allowing Eric Brandt to exit the bus. The video shows the suspect did not appear to be acting in an unreasonable manner. It appeared the victim escalated the incident by not allowing the suspect to exit.”
By the time Brandt was past Rice, the second bus was already moving and he was unable to get on.
“In my mind,” said Rice, ”I was just waiting for him to get out of the way so I can get him his transfer. It never crossed my mind I was trying to keep him. I don’t want angry people there where they can hurt me.”
Det. Hernandez wrote that Brandt “does not strike, kick, push, shove or assault Ramona. There is contact, however it appears it is from her holding onto the rails and not letting go as he walks out. “
Brandt contends he “barely touched her with my sign and she flung herself backwards into a mud puddle.”
Rice is due in court Nov. 13 on the criminal charge.
Nate Currey, an RTD spokesman, told CBS4, ”It’s an active investigation so I can’t say too much about it. I can’t comment on what happened.”
He said in his two years with RTD he had never before heard of a driver charged with false imprisonment, “It is a very unusual circumstance.”
A spokesman for First Transit called Rice a “good driver” who had been driving an RTD bus since 2014. He said he couldn’t comment on an ongoing criminal investigation but noted that Rice has received several commendations as a result of positive feedback from bus riders.
Rice said, ”This is my job. I just want to get from point A to point B. I don’t know what to do. I may have to go to court and go to jail. I’ve never been in trouble- never.”