DCist pointed to a disturbing video this weekend: A man in a wheelchair was tackled out of it by Metro Transit cops and arrested. The incident, which happened in broad daylight outside the U Street/Cardozo station on the Green and Yellow lines, attracted jeers and protests from bystanders and left the man bleeding. Metro responded to the video this morning:
On Thursday, May 19, the Metro Transit Police on routine patrol at the U St. Metrorail station observed a patron in a wheelchair drinking an alcoholic beverage. The officers asked the patron to leave the area and he refused. The officers then attempted to issue the patron a citation and when the patron refused to comply with the issuance of a citation he was told that he would be placed under arrest. The patron resisted arrest which resulted in him falling out of his wheelchair. The patron was arrested for assault on a police officer and drinking in public.
But in the video, the man isn’t “falling out of his wheelchair.” While it’s obvious that he’s struggling against the two officers, who both outweigh him, it’s also obvious he was slammed to the ground as a result.
Reviewing the video, one Metropolitan Police Department officer who’s made scores of arrest says he would have handled things differently. “I don’t believe I would have gone that far. I don’t believe I would’ve removed him from the wheelchair,” says the cop.
The officer asks to remain anonymous because he doesn’t have permission to speak about the incident. He points out that one way the cops could have avoided the controversial take down was by thinking things through. The suspect in the video looks as if he’s in a motorized wheelchair, and “you can simply unplug those things from the battery,” he says. Though that wouldn’t have helped the suspect get into handcuffs, it would have taken the situation down a notch.
Another observation he makes is that the arrested man was left on the ground for too long. In the video, the officers don’t seem to be making an effort to pick him up. That’s something MPD avoids because of “positional asphyxiation,” he says. A suspect can end up suffocating if they’re left on the ground in the wrong position: “Our issue is that they need to get off the ground as soon as it’s safe.” The cop says that usually takes seconds. That a suspect was bleeding wouldn’t make a difference.
But he also says it’s hard to know all the particulars from a video. He wouldn’t necessarily describe the transit cops’ actions as heavy-handed. He says Metro’s police force is trained differently and has different use-of-force guidelines: “Maybe they’re learning it a different way.”