ACLU lawsuits: Metro transit police officers assaulted D.C. teens, made up charges


Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU of the Nation's Capital, discusses two lawsuits filed Wednesday claiming that Metro Transit Police Officers, in separate incidents, assaulted two 14-year-olds and then charged them with assault on a police officer. (Luz Lazo/The Washington Post)
May 8, 2013

Civil rights lawyers filed two lawsuits Wednesday alleging that Metro Transit Police officers assaulted two teenagers in separate incidents in the District and then fabricated charges to justify arresting them.

The suits, filed by the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the students’ parents, allege that the officers used excessive force in confronting the teenagers and then tried to cover up the misconduct.

One of the lawsuits alleges that Officers Tierra Wood and L. McCoy put a 14-year-old boy in a chokehold, punched him several times in the torso and subdued him with pepper spray. (McCoy’s first name is Lanisha, according to the transit agency.) The incident occurred in June after the officers intervened in a confrontation between the boy and another teenager at a bus stop on Minnesota Avenue NE, according to the suit.

In the complaint, Tiffany Hall alleges that her son, identified in the document only as J.H., was “assaulted, battered and arrested without any basis” and that the officers “caused criminal charges to be brought against J.H. for assault on a police officer, and fabricated evidence to justify their excessive use of force.”

In the second lawsuit, Stacey Winslow alleges that her daughter, A.K., was hit in the head with a closed fist by Officer L. Taylor during an arrest in January at the Stadium-Armory Metro station for an alleged curfew violation. (Taylor’s first name is Leo, according to the transit agency.) The 14-year-old girl was handcuffed, and after she stood up, the officer slammed her head into the side of a bus shelter, the lawsuit alleges. Later, A.K. was found to have a concussion, according to the suit.

The girl was riding on a Blue Line train shortly before 1 a.m. after seeing a late movie with her older sister and three others. According to the suit, a Metro employee reported a suspected marijuana odor in the train car, which other teens were also in. When the train arrived at Stadium-Armory, the Metro officers ordered everyone in the car onto the platform, and Taylor confronted A.K., according to the lawsuit.

The ACLU and the parents did not provide the children’s full names, citing a court rule that requires minors to be identified only by their initials in court documents.

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said the agency had not yet reviewed the lawsuits. He added that the agency had not heard about the incidents before Wednesday and that the officers remain on duty.

“We take the allegations seriously and will be reviewing the matter internally,” Stessel said.

Efforts to reach the officers by phone and e-mail were unsuccessful. Wood and McCoy have been with the transit police agency for a little more than two years and Taylor almost five years, according to Metro.

Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the local ACLU chapter, said the officers “treated these children in a very brutal manner for not only no good reason, but no reason at all. . . . The children were really doing nothing wrong.”

The ACLU chapter has filed four cases against transit police officers since 2010. The other cases involved adults; one was settled out of court, and the other is still in litigation, Spitzer said.

“We hope that [Metro] will pay attention. It seems clear to us that their officers need better training and better supervision,” he said.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon in the ACLU offices in Northwest, J.H., a slim boy with braces, said that since his arrest, he avoids public transit and encounters with Metro police.

His mother said J.H. weighs about 90 pounds and is usually bullied because he is smaller than other kids his age.

Winslow, A.K.’s mother, said that after the incident, her daughter had a busted lip, cuts on her face, and scratches on her neck and chest. “He handled her as if she was a grown man,” Winslow said.

The parents said that until the arrests described in the lawsuits, the teens had never been arrested or otherwise in trouble with law enforcement.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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