Mary Holmes says she thought she was doing the right thing when she called 911 to complain about the treatment of another woman by MBTA Transit Police last year. Then came the pepper spray, then the baton, and then she was under arrest.
That’s according to a civil rights suit filed by Holmes in U.S. District Court Wednesday. The Roxbury resident is accusing MBTA officers Jennifer Garvey and Alfred Trinh of police brutality, saying she was attacked and unlawfully arrested because she was trying to defend another member of the public from one of the same officers.
Holmes is represented by the ACLU of Massachusetts and attorney Howard Friedman.
According to the complaint, in March 2014, Holmes saw Garvey “screaming and swearing at an elderly woman’’ at the Dudley Square bus station in Roxbury. Holmes says she then saw Garvey “suddenly put her hands on [the older woman] and slam her down on a bench.’’
Holmes attempted to defuse the situation by speaking to the elderly woman, and by asking Garvey not to yell at the woman, according to the complaint. It says that Garvey told Holmes to “shut the f— up.’’
The officer then shoved the elderly woman, who had stood up, back onto the bench, the suit says. Garvey slapped a water bottle in the elderly woman’s hand into her face, and “slammed her down into the bench in a prone position, and dragged her across the bench,’’ according to the complaint.
The suit says Holmes dialed 911 to report the behavior, which prompted Garvey to “advanc[e] towards her, while screaming and swearing at her.’’ While Holmes was on the phone, she was pepper sprayed by Garvey, and her phone was hit out of her hand, according to the complaint.
Garvey was then joined by her partner, Trinh, as Holmes was beaten with a baton, thrown to the ground, and arrested, the suit says.
The incident was captured on video at the MBTA station (included at the end of this article). The footage shows Holmes being pepper sprayed as she speaks on the phone, hit with a baton, and thrown to the ground.
Holmes was held overnight because she could not make bail, according to the suit. The next day, the suit says, Holmes was charged with assault and battery on a public employee, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. The charges were dropped months later when prosecutors saw video of the incident, according to the complaint.
Holmes says she was left with an open wound on her shin that required stitches as a result of the attack, that her phone and backpack were destroyed, and that she suffered anxiety and depression after the incident. She is seeking compensation for damages, as well as attorney’s fees and any further damages decided by the court. The suit says the officers’ alleged actions violated Holmes’s First and Fourth Amendment rights.
Though the incident occurred more than a year ago, the suit comes during a time of heightened tension between police and activists, who say police brutality in the United States disproportionately affects people of color. Holmes is black, as was the elderly women whose interaction with officers drew Holmes’s attention.
“Unfortunately, the officers’ reactions are part of a broader, troubling trend, in which police officers mistreat individuals exercising their constitutional rights,’’ ACLU attorney Jessie Rossman said in a statement. “It has to stop.’’
In January 2015, close to a year after the incident, Garvey was arrested for a domestic dispute, which included her pointing a gun at her wife (who was also a transit officer). Garvey, an Army veteran, was ordered into a PTSD treatment program, according to a Wilmington Advocate report from January. She was placed on paid leave, The Boston Globe reported.
She remains on paid leave, with a disciplinary hearing related to the January arrest scheduled for next month. Trinh is an active officer.
“While the MBTA doesn’t ordinarily comment on pending litigation, the allegations contained within the complaint are concerning to the authority,’’ said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo. “The MBTA takes these allegations very seriously.’’
Transit Police spokesman Lt. Richard Sullivan declined to comment, saying it would be “inappropriate’’ given the pending litigation.
Attempts to reach the officers and their attorneys were unsuccessful.