The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s transit police had exonerated the officer now accused in a federal lawsuit of using excessive force on a Roxbury woman, according to documents obtained Thursday by the Globe.
But after Mary Celeste Holmes filed the lawsuit, which alleges that the officer used pepper spray on the woman and beat her before arresting her, the agency has decided to reopen the case and hand it to an independent investigator, said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.
Carl Williams, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who is representing Holmes, said he would welcome a new investigation. The ACLU publicly released surveillance videos obtained from the T, which appear to show an officer using pepper spray on Holmes and beating her with a baton after Holmes tried to make a phone call.
“The facts are clear, the video is clear: Ms. Holmes’ civil rights were violated in a number of ways,” he said. “In plain English, she was beaten, attacked by weapons, and arrested unconstitutionally because she made a phone call and wanted to complain about police mistreatment of someone.”
Williams said it was surprising that the transit police had exonerated the officer involved in the incident, especially if they had seen the surveillance footage.
“And if they did not look at them, it is shocking,” he said.
In her lawsuit, Holmes alleges that she was arrested in March 2014 because she tried to make a call to 9-1-1 for help when a police officer refused her request to stop shouting at another woman at the Dudley Square station. Holmes was charged with resisting arrest, battery of a public employee, and disorderly conduct.
The Office of Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley later dropped the charges against Holmes, according to court documents. Jake Wark, a spokesman for the office, cited the surveillance video as one of the reasons the case against Holmes was dropped.
“Pursuing those charges wouldn’t have been in the interest of justice,” Wark said.
Asked whether Conley’s office considered charging the transit police officers, Jennifer Garvey and Alfred Trinh, Wark said: “Our investigation is still open, and we have not reached a final charging decision.”
The lawsuit comes as a grass-roots movement called Black Lives Matter has sought to raise awareness to the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of police, and other cases in which police are accused of using excessive force.
Williams said he had advised Holmes, who is the sister of state Representative Russell Holmes, to avoid speaking with the media because of the pending lawsuit.
The two officers involved in the lawsuit are still on the T’s payroll. Trinh is still an active officer, but Garvey was placed on paid administrative leave in January after she was arrested in January for assaulting her wife.
Documents show that Holmes filed a complaint accusing one of the officers of excessive force and false arrest, according to a letter from Paul MacMillan, the chief of the transit police at the time.
In May 2014, MacMillan wrote Holmes to say the officer had been exonerated, and that the department believed “the incident did occur but that the actions were in compliance with policies, rules, and procedures and the standards of a professional police officer.”
The videos released by the ACLU recorded the incident from four different cameras. Some footage shows Holmes talking animatedly with Garvey. When Holmes starts speaking on her cellphone, Garvey begins pushing Holmes away and then uses pepper spray on her.
Both Garvey and Trinh then hold Holmes as she struggles against them, and Garvey hits her leg repeatedly with a baton. At one point, Trinh grabs Holmes’s leg, and Holmes clutches Garvey’s arm until Holmes loses her balance and falls onto the ground.
In an affidavit detailing the incident, Garvey said that she had asked Holmes to back away twice. Garvey wrote that she had warned Holmes that she would use the pepper spray if she did not back away. Garvey added that the spray had little effect on Holmes because of the wind.
She wrote that Holmes then “became angry and turned to square off with me before charging at me, swinging her arms and fist.” Garvey wrote Holmes yelled that her brother was a state representative, and added that she feared Holmes was going to attack her.
In a January court hearing on Garvey’s assault charges, where a judge ordered her to get mental health care, her attorneys portrayed her as a combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. Prosecutors said she has a history of violent behavior and posed a threat to herself and others.
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Skip to 10:50.Nicole Dungca can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.