City parking enforcement workers, angered after a woman colleague was beaten unconscious Thursday by a man she had ticketed during the height of the rush hour, demanded more protection yesterday.
Department of Transportation officials described the attack on Martha Gaines, 27, as the worst in an increasingly violent rash of confrontations between citizens and the civilian parking control aides. During a tense morning meeting with the aides, the officials promised to continue seeking ways to make the ticket writers' jobs safer.
Meanwhile, the U.S. attorney's office here said yesterday that, in response to a mounting string of incidents in which angry motorists have slapped, kicked, punched and even shot at ticket writers, it has instituted new measures to make sure that, where possible, their assailants are prosecuted.
Police said the latest incident began shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday when Gaines wrote a ticket involving a courier service car illegally parked at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. She told police that soon after she had written the ticket a man asked her if she had placed it on his car.
Minutes later, according to police, the man punched her in the face.
"I don't know how many times he hit me," Gaines said yesterday morning upon her release from George Washington University Hospital. "I just remember him hitting me in the face, then I fell in the street."
Two of her supervisors said they found her unconscious in the street when they arrived a few minutes later to pick her up at the end of her shift.
Police arrested Edward Darnell Meyers, 30, of Accokeek, Md., and charged him with assault. Meyers was released Thursday on his own recognizance and is scheduled for arraignment Sept. 16 in D.C. Superior Court.
Gaines said she realized the job would be stressful when she became a parking control aide four months ago, "but I never thought anything like this would happen." She said she is not sure when she will return to work.
In the ticket writers' regularly scheduled morning meeting yesterday, Feltus Collier, 33, said he believes DOT employes should be allowed to carry chemical sprays to protect themselves from the public.
Other ticket writers suggested their woman colleagues, who make up more than a third of the 55-person force, should be paired with each other or a male worker for protection.
"We are not going to take all this abuse," said Maria Harris, emerging from the session of more than 45 minutes. "It is not fair."
Throughout the summer, DOT officials have lobbied a City Council committee to support a proposal that would stiffen penalties for anyone found guilty of assaulting DOT enforcement workers.
Under current law, assault against a ticket writer is a misdemeanor, unless it is committed with a dangerous weapon or with the intent to kill. Then it becomes a felony. The DOT-backed proposal would make all assaults against ticket writers a felony, just as all assaults on police officers are felonies.
Joseph E. diGenova, principal assistant U.S. attorney, said that office has recently put in place provisions that:
* Permit prosecutors to use a more liberal standard for determining what constitutes a felony when DOT employes are involved in an assault, because "these people are subjected to extreme circumstances and we feel they are entitled to more protection."
* Require a mandatory review by a section chief before any case of assault on a ticket writer or booter is dropped.
* Monitor all charges of assault against DOT employes through the judiciary system, and keep DOT informed of their ultimate disposition.
He said the U.S. attorney's office has asked the D.C. police department to instruct its officers to bring DOT workers and their alleged attackers to the prosecutor's office for an immediate hearing if an officer is not sure whether an arrest should be made.
"We feel that these people are not punching bags," said diGenova. "They are not subject to be used by people to vent their spleen . . . . They have a right to be protected and we have a desire to protect them."