Boston Woman Files Civil Rights Suit Against MBTA Police

A Boston woman filed a civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against two transit police officers, alleging they beat and pepper-sprayed her when she tried to help a woman she says was being shoved by the officers.

Mary Holmes claims police brutality and violation of her right to free speech in the federal lawsuit.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which is representing Holmes in the suit, said Holmes was waiting for a bus at a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority station in Boston's Roxbury section March 26, 2014, when she saw Officer Jennifer Garvey scream at and shove an older woman.

Holmes said in the lawsuit that she tried to calm the older woman and asked Garvey to stop being so aggressive.

Holmes said that when she called 911 for help, Garvey pepper-sprayed her in the face.

Videos from MBTA cameras posted on the ACLU's website appear to show Garvey hitting Holmes with a metal baton. Then, Garvey and another officer, Alfred Trinh - also named as a defendant in the lawsuit - are shown forcing Holmes to the ground and handcuffing her.

Holmes' lawyers said they believe Holmes would not have been treated that way if she were white. Both Holmes and the woman she tried to help are black. Garvey is white.

"She thinks she was discriminated against because she was a black woman in Roxbury," said ACLU attorney Carl Williams.

Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the MBTA, said the agency "takes these allegations very seriously."

"While the MBTA doesn't ordinarily comment on pending litigation, the allegations contained within the complaint are concerning to the Authority," he said.

Holmes was arrested and charged with assault and battery on a police officer, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Williams said prosecutors dropped the charges against Holmes four months later after viewing the videos. He said Holmes suffered emotional and physical harm from the encounter, including a wound to her leg that required stitches.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

"Mary, in all of this, has always said, `I want people to know what happened, not for me, but for everyone else, because this kind of thing can't happen. It can't happen here in Massachusetts and it can't happen anywhere in the country,"' Williams said.

He said Holmes is "wholly willing to have conversations with the MBTA police and counsel on others ways to resolve this case," including putting police accountability measures in place.


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