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Metro's top security officer ousted days after filing complaint with inspector general

Los Angeles, CA - October 09: The Metro D Line at Wilshire and Western in Koreatown on Monday, Oct. 9, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
The Metro D Line at Wilshire and Western in Koreatown. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Metro's top security official was fired two days after she filed a report with the agency's inspector general's office, her attorney said.

Gina Osborn, a former FBI agent who was the agency's first chief safety officer, "was summarily terminated by [Chief Executive] Stephanie Wiggins," said her attorney, Marc R. Greenberg.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it does not comment on personnel issues. In a brief note sent to board members and their staff on Wednesday, Wiggins said that Osborn was "no longer with the agency."

"We will begin the recruitment efforts for the Chief Safety Officer position immediately," Wiggins said in the email. Ken Hernandez, deputy chief safety officer, will serve in her place in the interim.

"Ms. Osborn has rights that protect her from this type of unjustified employment actions, and we are evaluating her litigation options against Ms. Wiggins," said Greenberg, who worked alongside Osborn when she was at the FBI and he was at the U.S. attorney's office. He said he is looking into a class-action lawsuit.

Inspector General Karen Gorman said she could not comment on pending reports.

The firing comes at a crucial moment when the department is still struggling to improve security, lure back pre-pandemic customers and burnish its image ahead of the 2028 Olympic Games, which officials want to make car-free.

Last week a man with an airsoft gun hijacked a Metro bus, and the transit system has been tarred with news reports of random crimes, though data show that violent crime on the system has been ticking downward.

Osborn was hired in 2022, overseeing safety and law enforcement. Her attorney said the agency "has seen an increase in ridership and a drop in crime thanks to her efforts."

She was tasked with reducing crime as the agency was emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic and found itself with a large homeless population that used the trains as shelters. She pushed to increase the visibility of police, sheriff's deputies and Metro's own officers in a bid to reduce crime that had jumped as drug use grew rampant.

During her tenure, Metro put 48 more security officers on their team and adopted an ambassador program throughout the rail system to guide customers and provide some homeless outreach, though she did not oversee the latter. She was also behind a proposal to create a Metro police agency that's still evolving.

She coordinated operations with the three police agencies that patrol the system: the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Los Angeles Police Department and Long Beach Police Department.

"I was surprised to learn she was no longer with Metro," said Sheriff's Capt. Shawn Kehoe, who heads the sheriff's Transit Services Bureau. On Tuesday morning, he had several meetings scheduled with her. He met with her twice, but a Metro staffer announced during his third planned meeting that she was no longer with the agency.

Metro has come under intense pressure to improve safety for commuters, many of whom don't feel safe on trains and buses and in stations. While ridership has continued to grow back, Metro's union representing bus and rail operators has been pushing the agency to improve conditions by putting in more protective barriers, for instance, around bus drivers. Metro said a prototype is set to be released in the coming months.

John M. Ellis, who heads the local affiliate of SMART, the International Assn. of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, representing about 5,000 rail and bus operators, said he has seen safety improve under her leadership, but more must still be done.

Metro spokesman Dave Sotero said, "Bus operator safety weighs heavily on the minds of everyone at Metro — as does the safety of all our front-line employees, including rail operators, custodians and more."

Osborn would not be the first in her department to leave abruptly. Her former deputy chief, Andrew Black, also a former FBI agent, filed a lawsuit against Metro in 2022, accusing Wiggins of retaliating against him for protesting unsafe work conditions.

Black believes that violence and ongoing crime will remain the "hallmark of Metro so long as this leadership continues its course of indifference to the suffering and plight of the unhoused and the callous disregard for the health and safety of Metro commuters and employees," according to his lawsuit.

Osborn told him that Wiggins was upset he had "spoken to the bus operators honestly about the problems and provided solutions to protect their health and welfare," and she ordered him to no longer speak to operators about safety, his lawsuit alleges.

Osborn told him that she had gotten in trouble herself with Wiggins "for having spoken honestly in the past," the lawsuit said. About two months after the incident, he was fired and is seeking in excess of $5 million in damages.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.