A woman who admitted to throwing a tumbler full of urine in the face of a Metrobus driver last August was sentenced Thursday to 120 days in jail and three years’ probation.
Opal Brown, 38, of Southeast D.C., who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault last month, appeared for sentencing in D.C. Superior Court.
When asked by Judge Patricia Broderick whether she had anything to say to the court, Brown briefly apologized for her actions, but argued that the assault was precipitated by a 30-minute argument with the bus operator.
“We were conversing back and forth,” Brown said, arguing that the short clip of surveillance video did not provide a full picture. “It was not an unprovoked situation.”
Even so, Broderick said Brown’s actions were inexcusable.
“There’s no justification for that. There’s no remorse. You simply don’t get it,” Broderick said. “It’s not appropriate and it never would be.”
Because of time already served, Brown will serve approximately 75 additional days before she is expected to be released. During her three years of probation, Brown must stay off the X2 bus line, remain drug-free and receive regular mental health screenings.
Brown’s attorney said she suffered from mental health issues and was struggling with drug addiction at the time of the incident.
The August assault involving Brown and the operator of an X2 Metrobus made headlines worldwide. According to surveillance video and police reports, Brown was exiting the bus at the intersection of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road when the driver, who had only been on the job a month, told her to “Have a nice day.”
Police say Brown interpreted the driver’s comments to be sarcastic. Police say Brown — who had earlier relieved herself at the back of the bus — took a plastic tumbler full of urine, reached around the edge of the plastic shield meant to protect bus drivers and threw the contents of the cup in the driver’s face.
Brown then dropped the cup and dashed off the bus. She later turned herself in to police after seeing news reports that officials were searching for her.
In court on Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Norman argued to the judge that Brown’s act warranted an 120-day sentence, saying that she failed to demonstrate remorse. Norman showed surveillance video of the act, pointing out other riders who were horrified as they watched the operator get splashed in the face.
He described what it was like for the bus operator to sit in urine-soaked clothes as she called Metro officials, waited for police to arrive, and spent time en route to the hospital for “decontamination.”
And he pointed out how Brown bragged on Facebook about what she did, after news websites shared photos captured from the surveillance cameras. Those posts, Norman argued, showed that Brown “relished in her newfound notoriety.”
“That’s why this attack was so repulsive,” Norman said.
After Brown was initially charged and released on her own recognizance, she failed to attend a status hearing — triggering her rearrest in early October. She has been in police custody since. Brown’s lawyer pointed out that she is receiving help for mental health issues and drug addiction.
Still, at Thursday’s hearing, Brown failed at times to demonstrate the contrition that the judge appeared to want to see. At one point, Brown suggested that the challenges she herself has faced since the Aug. 26 incident far outweigh those of the bus driver who was assaulted.
“She wasn’t affected, I don’t think,” Brown said, referring to the bus driver, “because her name never appeared in any of the news or anything.”
In the audience of the courtroom, about 20 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents Metrobus drivers, gasped and murmured.
The high-profile assault sparked calls from the ATU Local 689 for transit agency officials to take dramatic steps to curb attacks on operators.
Metro officials also have been advocating for harsher legal penalties for people who attack bus drivers, as well as seeking the ability to suspend riders from the bus and rail systems after they have committed a crime.
After the sentencing Thursday, ATU Local 689 Vice President Carroll Thomas said the union was satisfied with the sentence — but still wants to see laws changed so that assaults on transit operators are a felony. Earlier this week, such a measure was introduced at the D.C. Council’s legislative meeting, though it is unclear how many members of the Council would support it.
“What we need now is for the politicians in the surrounding jurisdictions to get serious to increase these penalties to stop these assaults on bus drivers, and to make the operators safe and make the community safe,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the driver who was assaulted by Brown is still traumatized by the incident.
“She couldn’t come here today. When she relives that, it’s a very traumatic situation,” Thomas said.