The Suffolk District Attorney’s office said on Monday it opened a criminal investigation into a former MBTA Transit Police officer after surveillance video emerged of the officer allegedly dragging a Black man off a bus, kneeling on his back, and pushing his face into the ground.
Nicholas Morrissey resigned from Transit Police on May 29 instead of facing termination proceedings for the incident, which occurred at the Forest Hills MBTA Station on April 28, according to police documents and a person with knowledge. The man Morrissey allegedly dragged from the bus was taken to the hospital but was not seriously injured.
“We are aware of the incident,” said Transit Police Superintendent Richard Sullivan. “We took quick decisive action and the officer is no longer a member of the Transit Police. It would be inappropriate for me to comment further as this matter is still an open investigation.”
In a statement Monday, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s office revealed the criminal investigation.
“Although it is unusual for my office to comment on ongoing investigations, the behaviors of law enforcement personnel must be held to a higher standard and require transparency,‘‘ Rollins said in the statement. “I want to thank and highly commend the leadership of the MBTA Police for bringing this matter to my office. Without their coming forward, we would not have been made aware of Morrissey’s concerning behavior. This type of leadership by law enforcement management must be commended and should be emulated.”
The officer’s supervisor was suspended for failing to supervise the officer, according to a person with knowledge.
Morrissey, who had been on the force for more than 10 years, could not be reached for comment.
The Globe has not viewed the video; Transit Police have denied a Globe records request for it, citing an open investigation.
Robert Marino, president of the MBTA Police Association, which represents Transit Police officers, did not respond to requests for comment; a person who answered his listed phone number said he was unlikely to discuss the matter. The MBTA declined to further discuss the incident, referring to Sullivan’s comments.
Morrissey was called to Forest Hills Station on April 28 at around 3:45 p.m. for a report of a drunk man refusing to leave a bus at its final stop, according to police documents obtained by the Globe. In his police report, Morrissey wrote that the homeless man tried to spit on him and then fell out of the bus during the ensuing scuffle. But surveillance cameras picked up the interaction both inside and outside the bus and appeared to tell a different story, according to a person who has seen the video.
The video allegedly shows Morrissey, who is white, walking to the back of the bus where the 63-year-old man was sitting, according to that person, who shared details with the Globe. Morrissey and the man appear to talk, though there is no audio and the video inside the bus is not high quality. Then Morrissey appears to grab the man’s foot and yank him off the seat. As the man sits on the ground, the video appears to show Morrissey grabbing his arm and dragging him out the rear door of the bus on his back.
The man does not appear to resist, according to the person who viewed the video. When Morrissey gets him out of the bus, he appears to flip him over onto his stomach, drop his knee into his back, and push his head into the asphalt. The video reportedly show the officer kneeling on the man’s back for about 15 seconds before getting up. The man appears to try to stand, but he falls back down. Video then shows the officer dragging him out of the flow of traffic, where an ambulance arrives and takes him to the hospital.
In her released statement, Rollins confirmed many of the details depicted in the video and noted that Morrissey allegedly “forcibly held the 63-year-old face-down with a knee on his back for 20 seconds, pushed his head into the pavement, and later dragged him out of the bus lane.”
Morrissey labeled his police report, “Assault on a police officer.”
Morrissey wrote that he entered the bus and requested that the homeless man leave several times, and then the homeless man “became enraged.”
“He arose and attempted to spit in my direction. I grabbed him by the shoulders and redirected [him] before he fell through the door to the bus striking his forehead on the pavement,” Morrissey wrote.
Morrissey was put on paid administrative leave in early May while the incident was under investigation.
Rollins announced the investigation after the Globe published details of the incident online Monday.
“I have said many times, the vast majority of police officers are dedicated public servants who work honorably and diligently to keep us all safe,” Rollins said in her statement. “Public employees, however are held to a higher standard, especially those charged with keeping the public and our communities safe.”
Rollins said district attorneys “by definition, work closely with police. But we also are responsible for maintaining oversight when their use of force is not lawful and potentially criminal. In those cases, the trust, and expectations of our communities, is diminished. They deserve and expect better.”
Rollins confirmed that Morrissey’s supervisor was placed on leave but the officer’s name was not released.
MBTA general manager Steve Poftak said in a statement that the allegations are contrary to the core values and mission of the agency’s department.
“Transit Police officers receive specialized training in deescalation techniques and are expected to treat riders with dignity and respect at all times,” he said. “We take this matter very seriously.‘'
Adam Vaccaro and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.