A Massachusetts transit police officer was caught on video hitting an unarmed woman with a baton and drawing his firearm in a crowded bus as onlookers yelled for him to “drop the gun.”
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Police Department says it is investigating the video posted to Facebook Friday, which occurred in Dudley Square in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood earlier that day.
The video does not show the beginning of the confrontation, but MBTA Police Lieutenant Richard Sullivan said the woman had been identified as a thief by a victim.
He also said the officer had injured his hand, but then later said that both the officer and the woman were fine.
According to Sullivan, “If you saw the video in the beginning, the officer asks that woman to step off the bus so he can conduct an investigation. She refused to do so, and became actively non-compliant and assaultive.”
But that was not depicted in the video.
Instead, the video begins with the altercation already well underway. The first sounds heard are of the officer striking the woman with a baton. Perhaps this means the MBTA Transit Police have access to a longer video that captured the lead-up to the altercation.
We submitted a public records request for all related videos and reports.
Sullivan did not identify the officer, but said the Massachusetts cop is a respected veteran and that the department has not had any issues with him in the past. He said the officer has been put on administrative duty pending a “fair and through” investigation.
Sullivan would not speak about the officer’s decision to draw his firearm, saying that it would be inappropriate to comment before the investigation is completed. He said he would provide the department’s use of force policy on Monday.
While it may be fair to abstain from commenting on the officer’s actions before the investigation is completed, it’s striking that Sullivan was more than willing to characterize the woman’s behaviors as non-compliant and assaultive, and was willing to suggest she had committed larceny prior to the investigation.
Without a clear objective narrative from the beginning of the interaction, it is hard to categorize either party’s actions. While the officer is seen hitting the woman in the video first with enough force to make a lot of noise, it’s unclear what led up to that point.
The woman appears to be unarmed, and she is smaller than the officer. She did not appear to have visible injuries when she was removed from the bus.
In the video, she is certainly scuffling with the officer, and while we can’t gauge who was right when the incident began, it is fair to say that the woman was not an immediate deadly threat to anyone when the officer drew his gun.
Backup was on the way, and it is hard to justify the thought that drawing the firearm made anyone safer.
The introduction of the firearm also increased the chances of an accidental shooting, like the Massachusetts state trooper who recently shot himself in the leg.
Hopefully the MBTA police do conduct a fair and through investigation, although history suggests that might not be the case.
The MBTA Transit Police attempted to cover up for an officer caught on one of their own cameras beating a man, and even more recently they reopened a closed investigation into a beating after a lawsuit was filed.