tv NBC Bay Area We Investigate NBC August 18, 2018 6:30pm-7:00pm PDT
we found the tool used to detect discrimination isn't always working the way it's supposed to. new undercover video shows sea life mangled and killed off the california coast. tonight, we untangle the controversy. but first, an ac transit bus driver facing criminal charges for bringing a gun to work speaks out about why he felt he had to protect himself. here's senior investigative reporter vicky nguyen. vicky nguyen: good evening and thank you for joining us. tonight, we go in depth on four investigations already drawing thousands of viewers online at nbcbayarea.com. we begin with a new development in our series looking at a rise in violent attacks on bus drivers in the east bay. tonight, you'll hear from stephen williams, an ac transit bus driver facing criminal charges for bringing a gun to work. he told us he regrets his decision, but felt he had no other choice. he says he faced serious threats from a rider and felt the agency
wasn't doing enough to protect drivers. bernie mac: i love, i love sex. i love it by the pound. stephen williams: you can hear when he's coming playing loudly bernie mac. vicky: this is the first time ac transit driver stephen williams has watched the surveillance video from friday, may 4. stephen williams: is that appropriate? vicky: the day he asked this long-time rider to turn down the volume on his phone. stephen williams: "i love sex. i love it by the pound." do you hear what he's saying? it's not appropriate. and this is a conversation that we've had before. vicky: a conversation they've had because williams says he's tried to be a mentor to this rider, even giving him his phone number. stephen williams: just human nature. you see somebody like that, you wanna kinda help him. vicky: how long had you been friendly with him? stephen williams: off and on, probably about two, three years. vicky: when the rider refused to turn down his phone, williams asked him to leave. stephen williams: i have a passenger who's refusing to get off the bus... vicky: but it didn't end there. williams says 30 minutes later, and over the weekend,
the man texted him: "i'd love to be able to kick your-- myself for the bull you just pulled." and: "watch your back. i've been looking for you." stephen williams: i had been threatened by this person, and i just wanted to protect myself. vicky: williams and other drivers say, for years, they've asked for protective shields around the driver's seat to keep them safe. in february, ac transit leaders told us they would install the shield by june, but drivers are still waiting. williams says that's why he decided to bring a gun to work after being threatened. stephen williams: i was concerned for my life. vicky: he sent this email to his bosses to inform them. stephen williams: i got a text from my immediate supervisor, you know, just kinda reminding me that, "hey, you know, i recommend you not do this." i think at that point i calmed down and realized, "okay, he's right. this isn't the right way to do this." but at that time, i was already on the way to pick up my bus with the firearm, and there was nowhere to put it. vicky: he was promptly arrested when he got to work and placed on leave. greg harper: he made a bad mistake. vicky: greg harper has been a member of the ac transit board
of directors for 18 years, president twice. he says he was stunned to learn a driver felt so scared he brought a gun onto a bus. he says he was unaware drivers have been reporting more serious assaults until our investigation. vicky: people who see these stories may wonder, "how could the board be so in the dark?" what do you say to them? greg: what gets to the light of the board of directors comes through staff. and what staff thinks the board should know it brings to the board's attention. vicky: it sounds like you're blaming the staff for not bringing this to your attention. greg: i would say yes. when you choke the driver and drag him, choking, out of the seat, i wanna know about it. vicky: harper says he wants the agency to review how it responds to crimes against drivers, so they won't feel the need to be armed. greg: we're gonna fix it. we wanna fix it. congressman ro khanna: but they're often put in dangerous positions, and the least we can do is ensure their safety. vicky: meanwhile, congressman ro khanna wants to require local
transit districts to keep track of assaults and report those numbers to the department of transportation. congressman khanna: your reports, candidly, are one of the reasons that i am an original sponsor of this bill. vicky: khanna's bill also requires agencies to install shields to protect drivers, and train them on how to deescalate violent situations, something williams says he and other drivers have been requesting for years. stephen williams: we're supposed to be paying attention to the road and things that are going on. if i've gotta worry about you coming behind me, you know, gonna slit my throat or you threaten me like that, i'm not paying attention to the road. so, that's dangerous for everybody. vicky: williams faces two misdemeanor charges for bringing a weapon to work. he's now fighting to keep his job at ac transit. the agency tells us it is looking to have its shields installed by october. announcer: billions of gallons of toxic wastewater left over from oil drilling is seeping into groundwater from holding ponds across california. up next, we investigate why the state allows this to happen.
with our investigation into the dumping of toxic oil wastewater into open, unlined ponds. it's a practice that no other oil-producing state in the nation allows, but we found it's happening right here in california, and with little regulation. fred starrh: this is where the pond, where the pipe goes out to the pond-- stephen stock: second-generation farmer, fred starrh, showed us where the threat to his family's way
of life, percolation ponds like these, sat running 24 hours a day. stephen stock: and the pond's extended all the way down-- fred: all the way down for a mile. stephen stock: the now fallow grassland sits within sight of starrh's almond trees. starrh and his family sued the pond's owner, aera energy, an oil and gas company owned by exxonmobil and shell. the lawsuit claimed wastewater from the ponds migrated underground and contaminated groundwater under the starrh's land. fred: we are not able to pull up water to irrigate our crop, with which we are desperately short of all the time. larry starrh: you have this resource that you can never replace. stephen stock: larry starrh is fred's son. larry: it was like, "man, this isn't right." it was a intentional polluting, and they knew that. stephen stock: in california, oil is brought up from deep underground by injecting millions of gallons of water into wells. when that mixture comes back to the service, the wastewater contains chemicals that are toxic to humans. proponents of this pond disposal method say the soil and bacteria
at the bottom of the ponds filter out the toxins, and that does happen. but new evidence from the local water quality control board shows that not all the toxins are filtered every time. seth shonkoff: it is increasingly likely that these pits can contaminate groundwater. stephen stock: seth shonkoff is executive director at pse healthy energy and visiting scholar at uc berkeley's department of environmental science, policy, and management. shonkoff believes these pits threaten water supplies that california may depend on during droughts. seth: it sets us up for a future where we are gonna be less certain that people will not be exposed to hazardous chemicals in their water supply. that kind of uncertainty keeps me up at night. hollin: astonishingly, california is the only oil-producing state that allows this reckless practice. stephen stock: hollin kretzmann, with the center for biological diversity, is not overstating that fact. we checked him out. no other oil-producing state, not texas, not north dakota,
not montana, allows open percolation ponds like these. those states get rid of their oil wastewater in different ways. hollin: it's very concerning that the contamination is spreading underground to groundwater, and we don't know the true extent of that contamination. stephen stock: take these ponds as one example of what can happen. owned by the valley water management company, they are the mckittrick ponds in the central valley. at their peak, dumping up to 4.8 million gallons of wastewater here every day. a staff report from central valley water board shows the plume of toxic water underneath these ponds has already spread underground more than 2 miles away. hollin: and the fact that the central valley water board hasn't taken any meaningful action yet is just unacceptable. this is an inexcusable practice, and there's no reason why we should let it continue. patrick pulupa: i mean, to be totally honest, the regulatory agencies were a bit behind the curve. stephen stock: patrick pulupa is incoming executive officer at central valley's regional water quality control board.
stephen stock: is there a risk to groundwater from these ponds? patrick: i think we wouldn't be having this conversation if there wasn't a risk. stephen stock: the water board oversees many of the more than 1,000 active percolation ponds located throughout the state. stephen stock: some scientists say, in some instances, where there was good quality water, it's too late. patrick: i think it's really tough to remediate groundwater once it's impacted. stephen stock: you would concede there may be some instances where that's happened? patrick: absolutely, and i think there may be some instances. i don't think that's the majority of the cases out there. would i have liked to seen more action on this earlier? certainly. stephen stock: because of that, pulupa says his board is now taking action. patrick: i think we're adopting a robust regulatory program right now to make sure that those ponds are regulated. stephen stock: pulupa points out that in some cases, the groundwater below the ponds is of such poor quality to begin with, it doesn't matter what goes down through the ground. but the starrh family says they used to have good clean water
regional waterwer board shut . they had the power to stop it, and they didn't do any of that. stephen stock: aera energy sent us a statement that reads in part, quote: "after years of litigation and three jury trials, there was never a finding linking aera's operations to damage to tree crops or harmed drinking water resources." but the jury's verdict from the first trial contradicts that, concluding that that oil wastewater did, in fact, pollute the starrh's groundwater. after 13 years of appeals, the starrh's ended up settling for an undisclosed amount of money. stephen stock: do you feel vindicated? larry: not at all. fred: there's no way you're vindicated. stephen stock: they say they're not vindicated because the groundwater under their land is lost, polluted forever and unusable. because of that, the starrhs feel as if they lost much more than they won. fred: there's a pond that's still out there, it's not even a mile off of our property, that's still polluting as we sit here today. stephen stock: because of the pollution under their land, the starrhs say they now have to bring in their water
from other sources in order to water their crops. now, to see our full reporting on this issue, go to our website, nbcbayarea.com/weinvestigate. announcer: coming up, more and more often, the tool used to prevent discrimination in mortgage lending is missing some important information. what you need to know before you try to buy a home.
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and the house she's called home through her lender, quicken loans. so she got on the phone with a loan officer who filled out her application. then came the section that asked for her race. meghan: it's really important to me that you record this correctly. make sure you put down that i'm white. i was very specific about that. liz: roberts knows banks have to report borrowers' race to the feds as part of the home mortgage disclosure act, or hmda for short. congress passed it 40 years ago to address redlining, the fencing off of areas in minority communities where banks refused to lend. hmda's goal is to make sure all applicants are treated fairly. but when roberts received her loan application in the mail, it stated she didn't wish to provide her race. liz: there was no possible way the person on the other end of the phone could have misinterpreted that. meghan: i don't know how he possibly could have. if they change all the white people to "does not report," their percentages for everybody else looks better, so that just really bothered me.
liz: quicken loans assured roberts it was an honest mistake and fixed it. still, we wanted to know how often lenders are reporting, "race unspecified" data to regulators. we analyzed all hmda data in california from 2012 to the most recent year on record, 2016. during that time, around 14% of all applicants provided no race information. at wells fargo, the biggest lender in california, it hovered around 10%. but we found quicken loans' numbers are much higher, and they spiked in recent years. in 2016, more than 40% of the applications contained no race data. that's nearly three times the state average. peter smith: i don't like to see a lot of race unspecified data. liz: peter smith is a senior not to disclose their race,rowst and some might think marking it down will hurt their chances. but he says 40% sounds high. peter: when we see larger sets of people or larger sets of borrowers failing to report their race, i wonder, you know,
if there are sort of structural issues. it raises a little bit of a red flag for me. liz: quicken loans is the nation's largest mortgage lender. its popular rocket mortgage site says you can get approved in minutes, but that convenience may come at a cost. liz: if someone comes into a bank to apply for a loan, but decides not to disclose their race, a loan officer is required to report their first impression of the person based on observations we all make, like skin color, accent, or last name. liz: but quicken loans' clients fill out applications on the phone or online, so if someone checks "let's move on," the loan officer doesn't have to report anything. it'd not ideal, but some information is better than none, and it helps the government keep an eye on who is getting loans. quicken loans says it relies only on the information provided by applicants and its lending practices are fair. in a statement, the company says, "when a lender is unaware of a client's ethnicity, it is impossible to make a lending
decision based on anything but the credit profile."ill disr as more lenders move online. peter: if there's a situation where, through the use of technology, important details like race data are being lost, then i think that's a loss overall. liz: locally, contra costa county leaders looked at recent data, and found a disturbing pattern. high-income blacks were more likely to be denied home loans than low-income whites. laura simpson is the planning and housing manager for concord. liz: what does the lack of race and ethnicity information mean to a city and a county trying to do this analysis? laura simpson: so, it is harder to get at if there is any unequal treatment. meghan: well, when i contacted them-- liz: back in richmond, meghan roberts says as soon as she noticed the error on her application, she called quicken loans. the company says the banker accidentally clicked on the wrong box. quicken loans corrected it and reported her real demographic data to the government. robecle loan the next week.
liz: peter smith, the researcher you heard from says regulators need to take a close look at race reporting trends. congress is currently debating a plan to streamline the data banks are required to keep tabs on. we'll keep you posted. announcer: it's a type of fishing gear known for its deadly catch. some lawmakers are now pushing to ban these nets, but fishermen say that would drown their business. we investigate next. while oti'm the only ones servthat has the bowlsff, to serve something different. i mean, just look at my teriyaki bowls., covered in teriyaki sauce, plus your choice of white or brown rice. what about these bowls jack? hey! you got some pretty nice bowls there. and so does dan! thanks jack! those are some nice bowls. everyone's gonna want to get their hands on jack's bowls. try my bowls! see that right there? you can't say that. what? i was just saying i got great bowls... ooooh. now i hear it. yea. try my teriyaki bowls. only at jack in the box.
known for its deadly catch. we've learned marine mammals, including endangered species, have been unintentionally strangled and killed off the california coast by the thousands. these massive fishing nets are mainly used to catch swordfish, but snag and kill a lot more, including sharks, dolphins, and whales. we first told you about these nets two years ago. well, now, state and federal lawmakers are taking action to do away with the gear that's been entangled in controversy.
bigan: marine life now lifeless, caught and killed in mile-long fishing nets off the california coast. we obtained and analyzed nearly three decades of federal inspection records and discovered 87,000 sharks were killed in drift gillnets over the past 28 years, 4,000 dolphins, 1,200 sea lions, 456 whales, which includes endangered species, and 136 sea turtles, which are all either endangered or threatened. male: they were drowning to death in these nets. bigan: this ith ag under the condition we protect his identity. he shot over 100 hours of video while on 2 fishing boats off the california coast. he tells us he managed to get permission from crews to be on board, but what they didn't know is that he's an undercover cameraman working for animal rights groups. male: dolphinsto get air,inga.
they just constricted themselves in the net and died. so, when they came up, wound up in the net, the crew would cut them to pieces to get them out. bigan: so, they were so tangled that the only way they could get them out was by cutting off their fins? male: that's correct. bigan: the undercover and underwater videos are being released by a coalition of animal advocacy groups, including mercy for animals, sharkwater, sealegacy, and turtle island restoration network, all in an effort to get the nets banned. bigan: what was it like being on board? male: it was bizarre. the crews and captains were so casual in telling me how many the ocean from about sunset to sunrise. dead sea mammals would come up in their nets. so the nets are left out overnight. theyridge, roughly 6,000 feet. the nets are typically about 100 feet tall. gary burke: we try to avoid a lot of little stuff. bigan: fisherman gary burke has been using drift gillnets
off the california coast since the practice started in the '70s. gary: what do we got going on here? bigan: we first met him two years ago in southern california, but we recently caught up with him at the state capital, where he's been lobbying lawmakers to vote against new legislation that aims to phase out drift gillnets. the plan would offer to buy back fishing permits and raise the annual fee from about $300 to $3,000 over the next 2 years. bigan: what would the impact of this be? gary: everybody's gonna lose their livelihoods. they'll pigeonhole you in a corner with this bill. "take what little money we're gonna offer you, or we'll put you out of business with regulations and restrictions, and economically force you to do things that'll cost you so much you can't afford to go fishing." bigan: environmental groups want fishermen to use a different type of gear that uses buoys to drop fishing lines 1,000 feet below the surface, where they can better target swordfish and avoid marine mammals that prefer the warmer waters up top. drift gillnets are set just 36 feet underwater.
bigan: if there are other options that make less of an impact on the environment, why not make the switch? gary: they don't produce. bigan: so, you worry you'd be making less of a profit? gary: oh, i'd definitely be making less of a profit. in one week they caught with the buoy your guys caught in five and six months. bigan: five and six months? gary: yep. bigan: and burke says tougher standards are already in place for drift gillnets. holes in the netting are now larger, and noisemaking devices have to be attached all along the net to scare away unintended victims like dolphins and whales. bigan: and so these wilthey bee constant sound.nt, bigan: since the government started requiring those pingers in the '90s, the number of entangled marine mammals has been cut in half. and over the past five years, the nets haven't snagged a single sea turtle, according to government data. but 15 whales were entangled and killed. while the gear is also used to net certaipe half the sharks pulled aboard last year weren't the right catch. they were tossed back, most of them dead.
senator ben allen: it's extraordinarily damaging, deadly, inhumane gear. bigan: senator ben allen of santa monica authored that legislation to phase out drift gillnets. bigan: but if some fishermen are pushed out of this industry because of this, is that a price california just needs to pay? senator allen: the damage caused by this equipment is so high that if there are a couple of people who lose their job, you know, i think that that is a cost worth paying. bigan: back in 1990, 141 fishermen used drift gillnets. today, only about 20 rely on the gear. senator allen: how much are we going to allow this really small group of fishermen with this one particular type of gear to cause this amount of damage off of our coast when there are other alternatives that can still get good fish on the people's plates, but do so in a much less damaging way? bigan: fishermen argue that they've made several major
changes to reduce the amount of marine mammals killed. male: yeah, well, they have, but it's not working. it's not stopping it. i would say the evidence speaks for itself. bigan: the federal government is now considering installing cameras on boats to keep a closer watch of what's caught. senator dianne feinstein is also proposing a federal ban on drift gillnets by 2020. about 76% of the swordfish in the us is actually imported from other countries, many of which use drift gillnets and have even fewer regulations than the us. to see the entire list of sea life that's been entangled off the california coast, just log on to our website. you can even search by species. that's all at nbcbayarea.com/weinvestigate. that's our show for us tonight. thanks for watching. we invite you to join us every night on nbc bay area, where we investigate. ♪
our correspondent melissa peterman asked them to give us their favorite moment from last season and of course they all picked that heart wrenching episode. >> the way they told that whole story, how did jack die? how did jack die? i think it was a moment that was bigger than we thought it was going to get. >> like i was saying all along, let's get back to how he lived. >> did anyone ever say that looking into your eyes is like looking into the future with hope? >> nobody has said that, but it's really kind of you. >> excuse me, everyone. hi, i'm kevin, kate's brother, and it's toast time. >> randall and kevin and justin and surly give toasts at kate's wedding. after seeing them do that, are u