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Group files civil rights complaint with the MBTA alleging black teen was racially profiled

An advocacy group on Tuesday filed a civil rights complaint with the state Department of Transportation, alleging that an MBTA inspector racially profiled a black teenager when the official ordered him off a Red Line train last month without justification.

The complaint from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice alleged that the inspector “improperly removed our client ... racially profiling him as part of an alleged disorderly group of African-American children.”

On July 20, the complaint said, Transit Police officers boarded a Red Line train at South Station that the 16-year-old was riding and escorted a group of younger children who had a disagreement with the conductor onto the subway platform, the complaint said.

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The unnamed inspector ordered the 16-year-old off the train as well, even though the youth said he was not part of the group, according to the complaint. The inspector allowed the teenager to re-board only after a white female passenger vouched for the boy, the filing said.

“The MBTA inspector continued to act in a discriminatory manner despite being told multiple times by multiple parties that [the 16-year-old] was not part of the group at issue,” the complaint said.

The filing demands bias training for all MBTA staff, compensation for the teen and his mother, an apology, copies of all recordings and reports of the incident, a meeting to discuss the matter, and “reasonable attorneys’ fees for the filing of the complaint,” the document said.

The MBTA did not respond directly to the complaint but said the youth and his mother had a positive meeting with Transit Police after the incident. The agency also provided the Globe with a photo of the 16-year-old smiling next to Transit Police Superintendent Richard Sullivan after the meeting and said the teen’s mother had taken the picture.

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“While the MBTA does not comment on pending litigation, the T takes all complaints seriously and the Transit Police are committed to dutifully serving the riding public to ensure their ongoing safety and bolster community relations on and around our transit systems in the commonwealth,” said T spokesman Joe Pesaturo in a statement.

The encounter on the Red Line came to light when a witness described the incident in a Facebook posting that quickly went viral.

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers Committee, said in a phone interview that his group was “certainly concerned by the very visible instance of racial profiling and discrimination within a major public institution. We continue to be concerned about the likelihood of similar conduct arising in the MBTA.”


Jan Ransom of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.