Broken Promises - Bad Dreams, A Metro Investigation (Fifth in a series)
WMATA’s overall crime down but concerns remain on Metrorail
In the last six years, the MTPD (Metro Transit Police Department) has battled several lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) relating to their use of excessive force. At the same time, although overall crime has gone down at Metro stations, the number of assaults has gone up. Two notable suits involved young teens. According to the complaint filed by the ACLU in D.C. district court, in 2013 a 14-year-old girl referred to as A.K., was falsely arrested by MTPD officer Leo Taylor for a possible curfew violation. According to the ACLU the curfew would not have applied to A.K. since the train she was on was involved in interstate travel. Taylor pulled A.K. away from her older sister, punched her in the face, handcuffed her and then dragged her out of the station.
According to the complaint, Taylor took A.K. to a street-level bus shelter. Another officer told A.K. she could stand up, when she did Officer Taylor tackled her to the ground and smashed A.K’s head against the side of a bus shelter. When A.K. started to spit blood, Taylor tried to put a surgical mask on her, when A.K. resisted, Taylor hit the 14-year-old in the face several more times.
The teen suffered a severe concussion and had to receive physical therapy due to her injuries.
According to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) spokeswomen Sherri Ly, Taylor still works for Metro. She was unable to provide any specifics about his duty assignments.
“Like every police force in a large metropolitan area, they are dealing with tens of thousands of people every day; they are dealing with crowded conditions. I have some sympathy that they have a very tough job to do, in general, police officers try to do it well sometimes things do not turn out right, more often there are officers who just lose their temper,” said ACLU legal head Art Spitzer.
In another 2013 case, Metro police officers, Tierra Wood, and L. McCoy placed a 14-year-old, refered to as J.H, in a chokehold. According to the ACLU complaint, J.H was being assaulted by another teenage boy on a Metro bus. Wood and McCoy broke up the fight. However, when J.H attempted to leave, thinking he was free to go, McCoy grabbed his arm, when McCoy shrugged his arm to breA.K. free McCoy placed him in a chokehold. Under DC law a chokehold is considered lethal force.
After being put in the chokehold, the two officers punched and peppered sprayed the teen. According to the ACLU complaint one of the officers, Tierra Wood, testified at trial that J.H. was not resisting when she sprayed him with pepper spray. J.H was later charged with assault on a police officer. The charge was dismissed, and the record of the case was sealed.
According to Ly, the two officers still work for WMATA.
Both cases were settled in court, as part of the settlement for the Taylor case WMATA was forced to commission an independent review of their policies toward minors.
“We thought that they may need better policies and better training with officers on how to deal with kids. Kids are inherently noisy, rowdy, playful, we thought it would be useful for them to get an expert to learn how to handle kids,” said Spitzer.
MTPD officers have to fulfill the training requirements of all three states they have jurisdiction in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC. The requirements total to 1,196 hours of training according to the MTPD.
Despite this, MTPD has had several noteworthy incidents involving teens even after the 2013 lawsuits. A video of MTPD officers arresting a teenage girl went viral in 2016 wracking over 70,000 views on YouTube. According to April Goggans, the woman who posted the video, the 17-year-old girl was arrested for carrying chips and lollipop inside of a metro station. In the video, the girl gets into a shouting match with the officers and refuses to sit down, so one of the officers kicks her legs out from under her, to force her down.
“It’s a little girl, and you should have just took the lollipop that’s all you should have done is just took the lollipop from her, and that was it,” said one bystander on camera.
In the video, one of the officers involved claims that the girl refused to give up her food, and that was the reason for her arrest.
According to another ACLU complaint, in 2011 MTPD officers violently threw Dwight Harris, a street sense vendor, out of his wheelchair onto the pavement outside of the U street Metro Station. The officers claimed that the wheelchairbound Harris attempted to assault a police officer and had an open container of alcohol.
When witness Lawrence Miller protested to the policemen about Harris’s treatment, one of the officers, Fred Price, arrested him for disorderly conduct and assaulting a police officer. The charges were later dropped. With the help of the ACLU Miller sued, claiming that Price violated his first and fourth amendment rights. The ACLU settled the case with the metro in 2013; they did not disclose what the settlement terms were.
According to Ly, Price still works for WMATA.
Overall although total part I crimes against persons or property on metro stations went down from 2015 to 2016 by 4.7 percent according to WMATA’s annual security report, aggravated assaults increased by 31 percent.
There was also a 40 percent growth in fare evasion citations and a 125 percent increase in written warnings over the same period.