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Metro Transit officer accused of excessive force for fourth time is placed on leave

Laurel Watkins recorded video showing a Metro transit police officer forcing her and her friend Stevie Kitching from the Dupont Metro station on Oct. 29. (Video: Laurel Watkins)

A Metro Transit Police officer who has come under scrutiny in recent weeks for his tactics has been placed on administrative leave.

The action came after two women filed complaints Monday against Officer Andy Vinh.

Laurel Watkins and Stevie Kitching, both 22-year-old residents of Northern Virginia, said they were trying to use Metro to get home from Dupont Circle on Saturday night when Vinh demanded  they leave the station, initially telling them that they were not allowed to ride because they were intoxicated. They say he then grabbed their arms and shoved them outside the fare gates with enough force to leave bruises.

Watkins recorded the incident on her phone. Metro spokeswoman Morgan Dye said Vinh was placed on administrative leave after Watkins and Kitching filed complaints with the agency Monday.

Vinh is under investigation by Metro after a video posted online last month showed him kicking the legs out from under a handcuffed teenager and knocking her to the ground after she brought a bag of chips and a lollipop into a Metro station. After that incident, which occurred on Oct. 18 at Columbia Heights station, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said he was initiating a review of an incident.

Metro Transit Police arrest teenager for carrying chips and lollipop into station

Vinh was kept in service after the start of that review. Dye said the review of that arrest remains active, but noted that teenager who was arrested in the incident was not injured, and did not file a complaint with Metro.

Vinh, who has been with Metro since 2008, has been linked to other incidents in which he used questionable levels of force to subdue women arrested in train stations. After one 2010 incident at Gallery Place, Metro paid an undisclosed settlement to a woman who sued Vinh and the transit agency.

Metro officer who arrested teen carrying lollipop has history of complaints

In their complaints to Metro, Watkins and Kitching said they attended a Halloween-themed bar crawl Saturday and decided to take Metro home from Dupont Circle so they wouldn’t need to drive. They entered the station at about 8:30 p.m., they said, and while heading down to the train platform, Kitching sat down on one of the steps of the escalator — on the right side, with enough space for someone to pass, she said. She said she stood up when she reached the bottom of the escalator, stepped off, and immediately heard a yell from behind her.

“Officer Andy Vinh told us that we were too drunk to ride the Metro and needed to find other means of getting home,” Watkins wrote. “He would not give any further explanation, and we turned around and left.”

The women exited the station, walked around Dupont Circle, bought some pizza, came back, and sat on a bench outside of the Metro station for 30 to 45 minutes. Then, they re-entered.

“At this point we figured it had been long enough that we were in even better condition and the officer had time to leave the area. So we traveled back down the escalator and through the ticket barrier being as quiet as we could. We barely spoke all the way to the platform,” Kitching wrote.

Once they got to the train platform, Kitching said, “the same officer came jogging up to us yelling the whole way that we weren’t allowed down here, that he had told us we couldn’t use the Metro, that we needed to leave right now.”

They said they repeatedly asked what rules they had broken and why they needed to leave the station. Vinh refused to answer, insisting that they exit. At that point, Watkins pulled out her phone and started recording.

In the video, Vinh orders them out, follows them up the escalator and toward the fare gates as Watkins argues with him.

“Get out. Have a good day,” he says. “I told you, do not come back.”

“For what?” asks Watkins.

“Go through that gate. Now,” Vinh says.

“Why?” Watkins repeats.

“Because I said so,” he says.

“That’s not a reason,” she responds.

“Have a good night. Leave the station,” he says. “Get out.”

“What am I leaving for?” she says.

“Let’s go, we can talk outside,” he says.

At that point, a scuffle is heard on the camera, and Watkins yells for the officer not to touch her.

In their complaint, the women allege that Vinh grabbed their arms and pushed them through the gates, and they include photos of bruises on their arms and torso that they say they sustained during the altercation.

“He had no reason to kick us out, we were completely decent and hadn’t disturbed, let alone spoken to any person the whole time,” Kitching wrote. “Then, because we demanded to know why he was making us leave he first grabbed my friend by the arm and shoved her into the handicap gate and proceeded to shove me into the ticket barrier. I could not believe this man had used that kind of force on two innocent women.”

Kitching requested that Metro staff review surveillance tapes inside the station to confirm that she and her friend were behaving calmly and quietly inside the station.

“I have had a day to think over these events and really cannot come up with a good enough reason he would have physically forced us to leave. We were not extremely drunk, we were not disturbing anyone, we were not loud, and we were being completely respectable and minding our own business,” Kitching wrote in her complaint. “The Metro is a public service that is around to help people make it home safe and we were doing the responsible thing and opting to Metro home instead of drive home intoxicated.”

The women said that it was not until the day after the incident, when they posted the video of the altercation on Facebook, that a friend pointed out that the officer in the video had been involved in other widely-criticized interactions with women in Metro stations.

Watkins and Kitching said they were surprised to discover that other women had filed complaints against Vinh, and they were angry that he had not been put on administrative leave while the Oct. 18 arrest was under review.

“I was shocked that this happened before,” wrote Kitching in an email Wednesday. “I couldn’t believe he was still working if this had happened just a few weeks prior with two other women. Had he been fired for the event earlier in October or even put on administrative leave during the investigation, none of this would have happened to us.”

“It is incredibly frustrating to be so greatly affected by a situation that was entirely and unquestionably avoidable,” Watkins added in an email.

Metro late-night service hearing features scathing criticism, pleas and protests from riders, advocates