Metro’s ‘banana peel man’ considering plea deal

The man who’s been dubbed Metro’s “banana peel man” may not slide into as much jail time.

At a Tuesday hearing in D.C. Superior Court, Maurice Owens waived his right to a preliminary hearing and is weighing a plea offer from the government that would lower the criminal fraud charged he faces to misdemeanor, according to his lawyer, Henry Escoto.

Owens’s case involves Metro and a banana peel.

According to an account from Owens, as told to Metro police, he was riding an elevator at the Potomac Avenue Metro station Aug. 8, 2013, when he slipped on a banana peel as he was getting off, injuring his hip and leg. The District Heights man sued the transit agency for $15,000 — in part to cover $4,500 in chiropractor bills.

But the whole incident was caught on tape — and the tape showed something different.

On the video, Owens could be seen going into an empty elevator at the station.

He paces around a bit, then glances up into the elevator’s camera. More pacing. Another glance at the camera. In fact, in the video, which is about 90 seconds long, Owens is seen looking into the camera at least three times.

Toward the end of the video, as the elevator doors open, Owens can be seen flipping something onto the floor behind him. According to a Metro Transit Police report, “this object was later identified as a banana peel.”

In a dramatic gesture, Owens falls to the ground — half his body inside the elevator, half outside.

His claim against Metro was thrown out, and Owens, 42, was charged with second-degree fraud, a felony.

After the Tuesday hearing, Owens said he did not wish to comment and referred questions to his lawyer.

“He wants to keep his options open and see if he can resolve his case short of being indicted,” Escoto said after the hearing.

Tuesday’s hearing marks the third time Owens’s legal case has been postponed for a variety of issues. He was at one point ordered to undergo a mental health screening and evaluation, but his lawyer said he was “not aware” if the mental health evaluation had been completed.

Under the plea deal, Owens could face up to 180 days and/or up to a $1,000 fine, Escoto said. The criminal felony charge carries a penalty of up to three years in jail and $3,000 in fines — or up to three times the amount Owens was trying to claim from Metro.

Owens is due in court again on Feb. 18, at which point his lawyer said it is likely they expect to have or announce a plea deal.

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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