ACLU Statement on Metro Transit Police Officer’s Use of Taser on Bystander

July 2, 2019 1:45 pm

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WASHINGTON – On Saturday evening June 22 at a platform in the U St. Metro station, Metro Transit Police Officer Jonathan Costanzo tasered Metro customer Tapiwa Musonza as he was verbally advocating for a teenager detained by officers. Video of the incident was captured by a member of the public on the platform.

As the ACLU affiliates representing nearly 83,000 members and supporters using the transit system operated under the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency interstate compact, the ACLU of the District of Columbia, ACLU of Maryland, and ACLU of Virginia condemn Officer Costanzo’s actions and call on WMATA to open an independent audit of Metropolitan Transit Police Department policies and practices, including its training on use of force, arrests, and de-escalation, and its internal complaints and investigations process.

“This is certainly not the first time we’ve seen Metro Transit police brutalize members of the public,” said Monica Hopkins, Executive Director, ACLU-DC. “This is a systemic pattern of behavior by MTPD officers using excessive force against riders, primarily people of color. MTPD must release the body-worn camera footage of the incident and remove Officer Costanzo from duty as the investigation into this incident proceeds.”

“In addition to an audit, the public must have greater oversight of MTPD through a civilian-driven complaint process,” said Dana Vickers Shelley, Executive Director, ACLU of Maryland. “Police accountability to all the communities they serve is necessary to ensure MTPD officers will not continue to harass and abuse members of the public with impunity.”

“As the July 4 holiday approaches and thousands will converge on the District to celebrate our independence in the nation’s capital, they all deserve to use Metro and Metrobuses in an environment that is unthreatening and safe,” said Claire Gastanaga, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia. “The WMATA governing board needs to take action now to ensure that MTPD has in place training, policies and procedures that will protect the public from harm cause by its own officers.”

In the past few years, MTPD officers’ aggressive tactics have drawn widespread attention, including:

  • In May 2018, a 24-year-old woman accused of fare evasion was pinned down and menaced with a taser at the Ft. Totten Metro station. The officer ripped her shirt, exposing her chest.
  • In February 2018, Diamond Rust, a 20-year-old woman, was tackled by MTPD officers in front of her two small children, ostensibly for evading bus fare. The incident caused multiple injuries.
  • In June 2017, a man was stopped, pinned to the ground, and pepper-sprayed in the Gallery Place Station. Residual spray caused choking and eye irritation to other customers in the area.
  • In April 2017, an MTPD officer grabbed a young man at the Congress Heights Metro station while he was holding his one-year-old daughter, endangering both her and her father.
  • In October 2016, an 18-year-old girl was grabbed and her legs kicked out from under her by MTP officers, who arrested her for eating chips and a lollipop in the Columbia Heights metro station.

In addition, the ACLU-DC sued MTPD officers twice successfully in 2013 for excessive force. In Hall v. Wood, an MTPD officer placed a 14-year-old boy in a chokehold, pepper-sprayed him and punched him the torso repeatedly. In Winslow v. Taylor, a MTPD officers slammed a 14-year-old girl’s head against a bus shelter, causing a concussion and impairment thereafter. Unfortunately, losing these lawsuits has not led WMATA’s governing board or the MTPD to require and make changes in MTPD training, policies, or procedures needed to protect the public.

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