A Roxbury woman has accused MBTA Transit Police officers of beating and using pepper spray on her after she attempted to call 9-1-1 to report their aggressive behavior, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday with lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
In her lawsuit, Mary Celeste Holmes said she tried to tell a police officer to stop shouting and swearing at another woman at the Dudley Square station in March 2014. Holmes said in the suit that the officer, Jennifer Garvey, did not stop, and eventually shoved the other woman and dragged her along a bench at the station.
Holmes said she then asked for the officer’s badge number and tried to call 9-1-1 to request that more officers come to the station. In the lawsuit, Holmes said that Garvey and another officer, Alfred Trinh, then knocked the phone out of her hand, and then used pepper-spray on her, hit her with a baton, and arrested her.
Carl Williams, an attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said Holmes “wants to see some change in the way the MBTA police police our neighborhoods of color.”
“We think there’s a systemic problem in policing, and that communities of color are policed differently and more aggressively in Boston and across Massachusetts and across the country,” Williams said.
The incident, which appears to have been caught on MBTA surveillance cameras, comes at a time when a grassroots movement called Black Lives Matter seeks to heighten awareness of the deaths of unarmed black men in a series of police confrontations across the nation.
Lieutenant Richard Sullivan, a spokesman with the MBTA Transit Police, said he could not comment on the pending litigation.
The lawsuit alleges that the officers arrested Holmes without probable cause, used unreasonable and excessive force on her, and violated her right to freedom of speech. The complaint asks for compensation, but does not specify an amount.
According to the lawsuit, Garvey filed an affidavit accusing Holmes of assault and battery on a public employee, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. Holmes was charged with the offenses, but the Suffolk County Office of the District Attorney later dropped the charges, according to the suit.
Garvey was arrested in January and charged with assaulting her wife, She has been placed on administrative leave, according to a person with knowledge of her employment status.
The ACLU posted surveillance videos, which it says were obtained from the MBTA, that appear to show two officers holding a woman who is talking on her phone.
At one point, one officer appears to hit the woman’s leg with a baton. The other officer then appears to grab the woman by one of her legs. The woman then grabs onto the arm of the first officer before falling to the ground.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo wrote in an e-mail that the agency does not ordinarily comment on pending litigation, but he said the T is taking the allegations “very seriously.”
Watch video of the incident below: