A woman accused of splashing a bus driver with a tumbler full of urine told police she did it because she “hates Metro,” but later felt bad after seeing news reports and decided to turn herself in. Meanwhile, the bus driver was so traumatized by the incident that she hasn’t returned to work and is fearful she contracted a disease or infection from the attack, co-workers said.
Opal L. Brown, 38, of Southeast Washington pleaded not guilty Thursday to misdemeanor simple assault in D.C. Superior Court.
She was released on her own recognizance and is scheduled to appear again in court in late September. Until then, a judge ordered her to stay away from the X2 bus line and from the bus driver she is accused of assaulting.
The judge also ordered Brown to undergo weekly drug tests and be assessed for possible mental health services.
Brown, who appeared in court wearing a pink-and-black skirt and gray zip-up sweater, was quiet as she appeared before the judge. She declined to speak with reporters.
But a description of Brown’s alleged assault and subsequent arrest, provided by Metro Transit Police, appeared to shed light on what may have prompted her actions while riding the X2 bus Saturday afternoon near the intersection of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road.
According to the police report, Brown told police she was standing by the door of the bus, waiting to get off. The driver, a newly hired Metro employee, told Brown to “have a nice day.” Brown shot back, “Are you talking to me?” Brown said she then threw the purple coffee tumbler at the driver. She said she had used the tumbler to relieve herself at the back of the bus, according to the report.
“[The defendant] stated the cup was filled to the top with urine and she tossed the urine on the [bus driver] because she was mad at [the driver] and hates Metro,” the police report said.
The incident was captured on the bus’s surveillance video.
The bus driver went to a hospital to be cleaned up and “decontaminated,” and transit police searched for the assailant, without success, in the area where the bus had stopped.
According to the report, Brown’s actions began to hang heavy on her conscience after she saw news reports that police were looking for the assailant.
At 3 a.m. Wednesday, the report says, she flagged down a police officer — the hotline number provided in the news reports was apparently not being answered in the middle of the night, she said — and confessed to the crime, the police report said.
She told police that she spoke with her pastor about the incident, and he encouraged her to turn herself in. She also told police that she had an apology letter that she wanted to have read to the media.
Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said the agency has the letter but cannot release it because it is considered evidence.
Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, Metro’s largest union, filled the courtroom Thursday and waited hours for Brown’s appearance.
Union Vice President Carroll Thomas said he spoke to the victim Thursday morning. She has not returned to work, he said, and she is fearful that she might have contracted a disease or infection from the attack, particularly because the contents of the cup splashed onto her face and into her mouth.
“She’s so torn up, it’s ridiculous,” he said. “She’s so scared that she might be infected with something.”
The driver, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, is a relatively new bus operator, having just completed her initial 90-day probationary period. But Thomas said similar incidents happen frequently to operators.
“Juice, a fire extinguisher — things get poured on us or thrown at us all the time,” said Thomas, who has been driving buses for Metro for 18 years. Operators have even reported being spat upon.
Assaults on drivers have long been a concern; there were 75 last year. The X2 route has among the highest number of reported incidents of crime among Metro’s nearly 300 routes.
Thomas and other union officials say Metro Transit Police have not done enough to protect drivers and prevent assaults.
“They have no real plan on how to combat this, and they’ve done nothing to protect the operators,” Thomas said.
Union officials say Metro has not sought input from the union on potential solutions or strategies and that transit officials don’t take the problem seriously.
Thomas gestured at the courtroom and the union members filling the seats, many wearing matching red union T-shirts. “Not a soul from management is here,” he said. “They’re two blocks away, and no one comes down here for this.”
Stessel, the Metro spokesman defended the agency and disputed the allegation that management is indifferent to violence against drivers.
“We absolutely agree with the union that bus operator assaults are a serious concern. No one should be assaulted for doing their job,” he said.
Stessel said three dozen police officers are assigned to a special Metrobus Enforcement Division. They ride buses and check in with operators about problems they’re noticing along their routes — often while wearing plainclothes to avoid tipping off would-be offenders.
“Of course that doesn’t cover every bus every day . . . but it is a sizable devotion of resources exclusively to bus,” Stessel said.
The agency also installed clear plastic guards that are meant to separate the driver’s seat from the rest of the bus.
But the union says they do not provide sufficient protection.
The shields are intended to protect operators from being punched or otherwise seriously injured by a passenger, but the one on the X2 bus Saturday did not prevent the attack. There also is a gap in the shield to allow drivers a direct line of sight to the rearview mirrors.
Stessel said the shields are installed on a third of buses now, and officials are working to retrofit older buses with the devices — the design of which was tested and vetted by union representatives.
“We are open to any and all recommendations that bus operators have to help solve this problem,” he said.
Metro management and the union agree on one thing: They both would like to see legislation that would increase the penalty for attacking a transit operator, automatically making it a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
Faiz Siddiqui contributed to this report.