On Your Side: Months after pepper spray attack, local bus driver still waits for justice
Bus driver Ernest Dancer says he doesn't feel safe going to work after a rider pepper sprayed him.
On July 14 at 4:30 a.m., Dancer showed up to drive his bus route at the RTC station at 4th and Lake streets when, out of nowhere, a man approached him.
"He just came up from behind and I saw him, and all the sudden out from under his pants he skirted me with some pepper spray," Dancer said. "I don't know if he was stalking me or not. I don't know how he knew I would be standing at that bus stop, that time of morning."
Part of the incident was caught on RTC's surveillance video. The actual pepper spraying was not captured, but you can see Dancer pacing and rubbing his eyes as the suspect walks away.
"It hit me dead in my eyes. All over my face," he said. "It felt like my eyes [were] on fire. I could not see."
Reno police showed up to take a report. But still after three months, little has been done about the case. That's because detectives said they've been unable to get a copy of the video from RTC.
"Any type of evidence that you can obtain can strengthen the case or any lack of that can actually weaken the case," said Sgt. Colby Palmer with the Reno Police Department's Detective Division.
News 4 contacted RTC and was able to get a copy of the video. That same day a copy was delivered to Reno Police. RTC Spokeswoman Lauren Ball said the police request for video never made it to the right person.
Reno Police are now moving ahead with the case and hope to get a warrant for a suspect's arrest.
"The bus driver is in a protected class, just like a police officer or an EMT would be, so there's an enhancement to the crime of battery," said Sgt. Palmer.
Dancer said he "takes his hat off to RPD" but he's not so kind to his employer.
"I got no help from no one. Not from MV transportation, not from RTC, not from no one," Dancer said.
In the five years Dancer has been driving at RTC, he's had problems with the same rider before the attack. Just two weeks before the pepper spraying incident, Dancer said the rider was escorted off his bus by security.
"I had him put off the bus because of his irrational, rude behavior," he said.
As the suspect was taken off, Dancer said the man threatened him. Dancer believes the pepper spray was the result of that threat.
The bus driver was able to pick the suspect out of a photo lineup a month ago. But police said they needed the security video to determine what charges the suspect may face.
Nobody from RTC would do an interview. The agency instead issued a statement that said in part "the safety and security of our employees and our customers are the Regional Transportation Commission's (RTC) highest priorities."
RTC Spokeswoman Lauren Ball said the reason for the delay is that the Reno Police request for video "didn't make it to the right person."
Dancer just wants the suspect caught. He said the man was back at the RTC station last week.
"I saw him on the property, walking around mean-mugging me, letting me know that he's gotten away with his scenario against me," Dancer said.
Dancer said he still feels threatened since the suspect has not been held accountable. Security guards at the bus station told News 4 that they were never told to be on the lookout for the suspect after he was kicked off the bus. Had they seen his photo, it might have prevented the pepper spray attack.
"Someone like that must have a lot of malice in their heart to show up at 4:30 in the morning to do that to me," Dancer said.
RTC Washoe's full statement on the incident:
The video that RTC is providing documents what occurred before and after the alleged incident, but not the incident, which reportedly occurred off-camera. The Reno Police Department (RPD) is conducting an investigation and RTC has not been provided with any information. RTC is providing RPD a copy of the video.
Because the alleged incident occurred off-camera, RTC has asked the employee to file a report with RTC describing the incident. RTC needs the employee’s report as supporting documentation in order to ban the alleged suspect from its stations since the alleged incident didn’t occur on-camera.
The safety and security of our employees and our customers are the Regional Transportation Commission’s (RTC) highest priorities. RTC has security officers at its two main stations, RTC 4TH STREET STATION and RTC CENTENNIAL PLAZA to help keep staff and riders safe. Additionally, RTC has security cameras on busses and at bus stations for everyone’s security.
Due to employee confidentiality, RTC and its RIDE operator, MV Transportation, are not able to discuss personnel matters.