By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer
The attorney for Diamond Rust, the woman severely injured during a confrontation with a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Transit officer, is pushing for legislators to rally in support for amending the WMATA compact, which currently protects the entity from civil claims.
“I’ve never seen sovereign immunity where an entity cannot be sued,” said Yaida Ford, Ms. Rusts attorney. “They’re considered non-suable. They have sovereign immunity.”
Ford says this is problematic because WMATA, which is a tri-state agency, touches so many parts of the D.M.V.
According to the Q2/FY2019Metro report, between Metrorail, Metrobus and Metro Access, the agency services 149.9 passengers. Many of those riders, Ford contends, are African American.
“Eighty percent of ridership is Black,” Ford said. “So to the extent of implicit biases affecting a certain percent of your ridership, that is an issue that needs to be addressed.”
This problem bubbled to the surface last February when Diamond Rust, then 21, was arrested for alleged fare evasion. According to Ms. Ford, Rust, was traveling to enroll her child in the Yu-Ying Chinese immersion program. She had two kids in tow and was waved on the bus. She was approached by an undercover officer who said she took too long to pay the fare and forced her off at the next stop.
During that time words were exchanged and Ford alleges that the officer broke four of Rust’s front teeth and fractured her knee.
According to the affidavit filed in D.C. Superior Court, the officers stated that in their attempt to detain her, her head hit the pavement first. They later transported Rust to George Washington Hospital with injuries to her mouth and knee.
As to Ms. Rust’s condition now, Ford said, “This is hard. It’s been very hard. With victims of police violence, the effects of the trauma can be long lasting”
“Medically the extent of the nerve damage in her mouth is unknown. Right now we don’t know how bad it’s going to be because nerve damage can crop up at anytime.”
The fare evasion charges were dropped against Ms. Rust, Ford said.
The issue of fare evasion was already a hot button topic in the District, as D.C. Council members fought to decriminalize it, facing opposition from certain members of the Council. In January, Mayor Bowser vetoed the bill. The Council overrode her veto to push the bil through.
The billwas submitted to Congress with a projected Law Date of May 2, 2019.
Ford said she is pursuing legal action against the police officer but wants to be able to hold the entity that employees them accountable as well.
Council member At-Large Robert White said in a statement: “The graphic images of Ms. Rust’s face as a result of a Metro Transit Police Department officer’s use of force are heartbreaking. That she sustained these injuries in front of her young children over unpaid bus fare is inexcusable. No entity should be able to escape liability for unjustifiable aggression and injury. Especially given the continued nation-wide failures of the criminal justice system to hold law enforcement accountable for serious injuries and deaths of people of color, civil penalties serve a necessary and protective role.
“The fact that they (WMATA) get this unique type of immunity, I don’t understand the justification for that or the origin,” Ford said.
Ford is hoping to rally support to get the law changed.
“If we get the law amended, then WMATA now has an incentive to address this issue internally,” Ford said. “If you are going to run your own police force you need to be responsible for what they do.”
WMATA responded to the AFRO in a brief statement.
“As this is pending litigation, we have no comment at this time. We can confirm that the officer is employed by WMATA.”
For information about the petition to amend the WMATA compact, go to https://www.change.org/p/wmata-board-help-diamond-rust-get-justice-amend-the-wmata-compact