ACLU of DC: review panel’s investigation into Metro Transit Police is “disappointing”


WASHINGTON (WDVM) — Last year, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) established an independent Investigations Review Panel to study the Metro Police Department. 

Last week, the panel released its findings and recommendations based on four cases in Q4 of 2019. The ACLU of DC is criticizing the two-page, redacted report, which analyzes investigations the MTPD handpicked, not all incidents that have occurred.

“They are relying on the already existing investigations that the Metro Transit Police Department has done and sort of giving its blessing over those investigations,” said Executive Director Monica Hopkins. “None of the high profile cases, such as the tasering of a bystander who was intervening on behalf of a teen being detained, were analyzed.”

After the tasering incident in 2019, the ACLU of DC consolidated some of “MTPD officers’ aggressive tactics,” like: 

  • October 2016: An officer grabbed a 16-year-old girl, kicked her legs out from under her, and arrested her for eating chips and a lollipop in a Metro station.
  • April 2017: An officer grabbed a man while he was holding his one-year-old daughter.
  • June 2017: A man was stopped, pinned to the ground, and pepper-sprayed. Other customers were affected by the spray.
  • February 2018: A 20-year-old, accused of evading a bus fare, was tackled by two officers in front of her children, injuring her. 
  • May 2018: an officer accused a woman of fare evasion, pinned her down, tasered her, and ripped her shirt. 

The ACLU of DC also says the report is too bare-boned: the incidents don’t include names and dates and don’t go into detail about the offense. For example, the first case is laid out as follows: 

  1. [REDACTED] — Improper Arrest (Arrestee taken to police station, and released without being charged; a search incident to arrest in a non-public location was not performed to determine probable cause)
    1. Findings – The Review Panel agreed with the investigation’s findings, but also felt the scope of the investigation was inadequate, and should have included investigation of:
      1. Trainee and Field Training Officer’s failure to provide the Sergeant with the necessary information to make a more fully informed decision regarding the arrestee’s release status.
      2. The facts of the arrest to determine if the arrest was made with probable cause.
    2. Recommendations
      1. Training improvements
        1. Conducting Searches – Search incident to arrest is to be conducted by MTPD in a non-public location in accordance with their policy.
        2. Communication – Thorough and complete reports provide the best chance for watch/supervisory personnel to make informed decisions, so it is imperative that clear and open communication is required within MTPD.
        3. Reinforcement – Lessons learned from investigations reinforced at roll calls, included in the Training Bulletin, and if a pattern is noted, included in service-training.

The second case, however, is only two lines:

  1. [REDACTED] — Biased Based Stop (Individual stopped for fare evasion and counseled)
    1. Findings — The Review Panel agreed with the investigation’s findings.
    2. Recommendations — None

The panel determined the third case was an unlawful arrest. An individual was reportedly arrested in a Metro parking garage for “failure to leave the property” when their car was parked there. The subject and witnesses weren’t interviewed. The panel recommends “communication and policy training.” 

The panel approved of the MTPD’s handling of case four. An individual of color was stopped for failing to pay their fare at the PG Plaza Station, but a white person (who was later identified as a Metro employee) passed through without incident. The individual appears to have filed a report to complain about racial profiling, to which MTPD replied by letter. The panel agreed with the investigation’s findings, but recommended better communication via letters to help “complaintant(s) to better understand an incident.” It also recommended signage on employee gates. 

“In this day and time, when we are looking at law enforcement agencies and the proper role of police, and how much we are investing in them, we have to realize that the Metro Transit Police Department is a law enforcement agency that can enact what might be lethal force,” Hopkins said. 

MTPD’s Chief Ronald Pavlik sent a memo to the Investigations Review Panel chair and said the following will be implemented as soon as possible:

  • A “Training Information Bulletin” published on April 19 will “be followed up with an additional bulletin on searches.”
  • The MTPD Office of Professional Responsibility and Inspections (OPRI) will work with the training division to “address lessons learned based on any patterns and future review panel findings.”

Pavlik also said new communication training for new sergeants and monthly mandatory training for all sergeants have been implemented. The OPRI is also reportedly handling citizen complaint communications instead of “individual Bureau Commanders.”

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