METRO SERIES: Lawsuits, ACLU cast shadow on Metro Transit Police

WASHINTONG, D.C. – Metro Transit Police Officers connected with excessive force lawsuits still work on the force and are in charge of keeping Metro riders safe.

In the last six years, officials from the Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) have battled several lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) relating to the officers’ use of excessive force.

Two suits filed against Metro Transit Police in the last four years involved young teens. According to court documents, in 2013 one 14-year-old girl referred to as “A.K.” was falsely arrested by MTPD Officer Leo Taylor for being out too late at night. Taylor was accused of smashing A.K’s head against the side of a bus shelter. The teen suffered from a severe concussion and had to receive physical therapy due to her injuries.

A Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) spokesperson said Taylor still works for the MTPD. Officials were 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,” said Arthur B. Spitzer, of the ACLU. “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.”

In another 2013 case, Metro police officers Tierra Wood and L. McCoy placed a 14-year-old in a chokehold, according to a complaint filed by Spitzer on behalf of the 14-year-old’s mother, Tiffany Hall. Spitzer claimed that after Wood and McCoy put the minor, “J.H.,” in a chokehold, the officers punched and pepper sprayed J.H.

In the complaint Spitzer cited District of Columbia Code, which he said prohibits the use of one type of chokehold, a trachea hold, at all times. The other hold, a carotid artery hold, is considered use of force and is forbidden at all times except when the officer’s or a civilian’s life is in danger. Metro Transit Police officers in D.C. must follow D.C. Code, as they are certified Metropolitan Police officers.

Wood testified at trial that J.H. was not resisting when she sprayed him with pepper spray, according to facts in the complaint. Officers Wood and McCoy still work for Metro, Metro officials confirmed.

Both cases were settled in court. WMATA was then forced to commission a review of the agency’s policies toward minors.

“We thought that they may need better policies and better training with officers on how to deal with kids,” Spitzer said. “Kids are inherently noisy, rowdy, playful. We thought it would be useful for them to get an expert to learn how to handle kids.”

MTPD officers have to fulfill the training requirements of all three localities they have jurisdiction in (Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.), according to the MTPD officials. The requirements add up to 1,196 hours of training.

Still, MTPD has had several incidents involving teens. A video of MTPD officers arresting an 18-year-old woman for carrying chips and a lollipop inside a Metro station went viral last year, racking more than 75,000 YouTube views.

Prior to that, in 2011, MTPD officers violently threw Dwight Harris, a Street Sense (newspaper) vendor, out of his wheelchair and onto the pavement outside of the U Street Metro Station. Witness Lawerence Miller said the officers claimed that the wheelchair-bound Harris attempted to assault a police officer and had an open container of alcohol. When Miller protested to the officers about Harris’ treatment, the officer, Fred Price, arrested him in connection with disorderly conduct and assaulting a police officer.

With the help of the ACLU, Miller sued, claiming Price violated his first and fourth-amendment rights. The ACLU settled the case with Metro in 2013. ACLU attorneys did not disclose what the settlement terms were.

Price still works for Metro, Metro officials said.

And evidence suggests MTPD may have more work to do in meeting its mission to keep riders safe, as the number of assaults on system property has risen by 31 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to WMATA’s annual security report. Overall, though, total crime has decreased by 4.7 percent.

There was also a significant increase in citations, including a 40 percent growth in fare evasion citations and a 125 percent increase in written warnings over the same period.

Last modified onWednesday, 04 October 2017 18:36
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