Last Tuesday we saw the story of the woman who was supposedly kicked of a Columbus bus for having a broken flip-flip and going barefooted. While she was off the bus she was raped.
It turns out that she wasn’t kicked off after all.
According to the original story in the Columbus Dispatch, Woman: Parking-garage rape follows being kicked off COTA bus over broken shoe, she was riding the bus when she noticed her flip-flop was broken, and she was eventually kicked off the bus by the driver, who told her she was required to wear shoes to ride the bus.
The story backed this up with a quote from a Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) spokesman, Marty Stutz, who said that COTA’s policy required riders to wear shoes.
This got me involved, since a year ago I’d gone a few rounds with COTA’s legal counsel after I was refused entry on a bus for being barefoot. The driver refused to even open his door. COTA’s legal counsel originally wrote me that COTA had a policy, too, but after some Public Records Act requests I had established that they really did not have any such policy.
So it was distressing to see this incident, and that the spokesman was still, a year later, falsely claiming that COTA had a shoe policy.
So I contacted the Dispatch and was interviewed by one of their reporters.
When the reporter talked to me I got a slight intimation that there might have been some doubts as to whether she’d been throw off the bus. That did get me wondering, too. If she entered the bus with shod, how would the driver notice that she’d later taken off her flip-flops?
Then the next day there was also a story in the Ohio State University college paper, the Lantern, Woman says she was kicked off COTA before reported rape. That contained the following line:
COTA’s spokeswoman Lisa Knapp said COTA is reviewing surveillance video from every bus that was traveling southbound on High Street late Friday night and early Saturday morning to “determine if (the incident with the shoe) occurred and if protocol was followed.”
So they were having a hard time finding any video of the occurrence.
On Saturday, the Dispatch had the full story: Police say COTA driver didn’t kick woman off bus for broken flip-flop. The story had now changed to that the woman “said she did not get on another bus because she believed she would be refused without shoes”.
COTA looked through all their video and never was able to find the woman getting kicked off, and that’s when her story changed.
The Dispatch article did note, however, that COTA does not have a written rule about wearing shoes. The reporter was able to confirm this with COTA (probably with a few pointed questions, because of the earlier spokesman quote). The article actually went through most of the list of things that really are prohibited on the bus, things like uncovered drinks, music without earphones, or spitting.
[I’m a little perturbed about the reference to a “written” rule. COTA really isn’t allowed to have any other kind, but there is a slight hint, to me, that they might have an unwritten one they might enforce.]
The Dispatch article then went on to discuss a bit of what I’d shared with the reporter:
Wearing shoes isn’t one of the rules, although Bob Neinast said he has been denied entry to a COTA bus when he has been barefoot. Neinast, of Pickerington, is a barefoot advocate.
While some drivers wouldn’t open the doors for him, others have called a supervisor and learned that COTA has no footwear policy.
The supervisors “know what the rules are, even if an individual bus driver doesn’t,” Neinast said.
So, in Columbus, you can ride the bus barefoot, and this incident really made COTA acknowledge this (something they didn’t do for me a year ago, and something their current spokesman didn’t seem to know).
But this incident also highlights just how pervasive the shoe culture is. The woman obviously thought a story of getting kicked off a bus for being barefoot was utterly believable. And she was right. But there is surveillance video everywhere and that made it fall apart.
Unfortunately, I’m afraid that doubt raised about part of her story could raise doubt about her whole story. We may not ever know.