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Fare evasion: Activists cry foul over Metro Transit Police pinning down woman, exposing her breasts

D.C. Council Member Charles Allen and community activists say Metro Transit Police officers humiliated a woman and used excessive force during an arrest stemming from alleged fare evasion last week. Allen is demanding the transit agency release video of the incident and revisit its policies and procedures; activists want the officers involved fired.

Cellphone video of the arrest shows the woman straddled by one officer holding a Taser while another officer holds her down; her top is pulled down, and her breasts are exposed to the gathered crowd. Allen (D-Ward 6) said the video, first published by WJLA, raises questions about the department’s use of force.

“I cannot imagine the indignity of being arrested for fare evasion and being exposed in front of officers and onlookers,” Allen wrote in a letter to Metro. “I also find it hard to believe the same response would have been applied in a different context. This cannot justify such a use of force without an accompanying threat to the officer’s safety.”

Metro said the 24-year-old woman, whom the agency did not name, was stopped by police on May 21, after entering Fort Totten station without paying. She was charged with fare evasion and assault on a police officer. The assault charge, the agency said, stemmed from a police account that when an officer grabbed and attempted to restrain her, she “pulled away and downward, causing the two to fall to the ground.” The agency said the woman refused multiple commands to stop after allegedly failing to pay the fare.

Allen wants Metro to release surveillance video of the incident, revisit its procedures for arresting individuals for fare evasion and examine whether those arrests “disproportionately affect persons of color.”

Metro declined a request by The Washington Post for the surveillance video, saying it is “evidence in a criminal matter.” Cellphone video of the arrest could not be independently obtained.

Meanwhile, dozens of activist groups, led by Black Youth Project 100, called for the firing of the officers involved and for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine to drop the charges against the woman, whom the groups identify using the initials “H.U.”

“During the course of the incident, the Transit Police officers tackled her and slammed her to the ground, causing her shirt to rip and exposing her bare chest to onlookers, all while threatening her with a taser,” the groups said in a statement. “As a result, H.U. suffered injuries that required her to go to the hospital and found that upon her release her I.D. and metro card were missing.”

In its narrative of the incident, Metro said the officer was holding his Taser in a “low ready” position until backup arrived. The agency also said that the officer displayed his Taser because he was threatened by a member of the crowd.

“The crowd posed a safety risk to the officer and the arrestee,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. The agency said at least one crowd member threatened the officer, but beyond the woman, no one else was charged.

“The officer’s actions were consistent with training and protocol,” he said.

But more than 30 advocacy groups, including black, Muslim, Jewish and trans rights activists, pushed back.

“This is a clear case of racial profiling and the policing of young Black people in public, as well as the violence inflicted by militarized state actors for non-violent behaviors involving a few dollars,” the groups said in a statement Wednesday. “It is far from the first time dehumanizing and degrading actions toward Black people have occurred at the hands of state actors.”

The groups said the incident called to mind the case of Dajerria Becton, the 15-year-old slammed to the ground by police in McKinney, Tex., in 2015 after a neighbor complained about a pool party. Footage of the violent apprehension went viral, and the officer was fired.

Calling the police on black people isn’t a Starbucks problem. It’s an America problem.

The groups also cited a 2016 incident in which an 18-year-old black woman was arrested for carrying potato chips and a lollipop into a Metro station. The officer, who was accused of using excessive force at least four separate times, was no longer with the agency by the end of the year.

“Transit Police violence against Black women and girls is an unacceptable trend [that] must be stopped,” the groups said in their statement.

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

Metro declined to respond to the statement.

Allen questioned the need for force, noting police had not said the woman possessed a weapon, “and although the video may not capture the complete encounter, she does not seem to be threatening the officer or bystanders.”

He also cited what he described as a worrying trend: Arrests by Metro Transit Police rose 73 percent between 2013 and 2017, according to agency’s five-year crime report.

Metro has aggressively cracked down on fare evasion under General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, partly to reduce the revenue lost. The agency has secured the swinging emergency fare gates at stations and deployed audio alarms at some.

Stessel declined to explain the sharp uptick in arrests or answer any questions raised in Allen’s letter, saying the agency would respond directly to the council member. “We have nothing to add to it,” he said.