Roxbury resident Mary Holmes today added the MBTA as a defendant in the civil rights lawsuit she brought last August against two of the agency's transit officers who beat her and violated her constitutional rights in 2014.
In the original lawsuit, Holmes details being pepper-sprayed, beaten and arrested by officers because she spoke out to prevent MBTA police from abusing a person in her community. With the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and Howard Friedman as her counsel, Ms. Holmes seeks to hold former MBTA Officer Jennifer Garvey (then Jennifer Amyot) and current Officer Alfred Trinh responsible for her violent treatment and arrest. Now, in light of information obtained in discovery, Ms. Holmes' amended complaint alleges that the transit agency allowed a policy or custom to develop within its police department of failing to properly supervise, investigate and discipline its officers.
"Our client, Mary Holmes, has added the MBTA itself to this lawsuit in hopes of ensuring that no one needs to endure what she did—abuse at the hands of the very officers who have the duty to protect people," said Carl Williams, staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts. "The MBTA’s failure to properly screen Officer Garvey before hiring her and its failure to appropriately supervise her reflects systemic problems that the MBTA must address."
When the MBTA hired Jennifer Garvey in 2008, it knew that the Worcester Police Department had already bypassed her for employment as a police officer, but did not investigate the reason. The agency also knew that Garvey had a 2005 arrest for assault and battery. Nonetheless, the MBTA hired Garvey as a transit police officer, ignoring these and other warning signs that she was prone to violence.
Then, during Garvey's employment, the MBTA ignored more than a dozen incidents in which Garvey triggered the agency's "early warning system," even though most officers complete their entire careers without triggering this system. These incidents include five formal civilian complaints against Garvey—alleging assault and aggression, excessive force, unprofessional conduct, harassment and rudeness—as well as five internal administrative complaints for discourtesy, insubordination and failing to report for duty.
Despite these consistent signs of trouble, Garvey's supervisors at the MBTA failed to take appropriate action to change her behavior. Only in January 2015, when Garvey was arrested and charged with assaulting her wife with a firearm, did the MBTA place Garvey on administrative leave. The MBTA terminated Garvey in December 2015, nearly two years after the incident with Ms. Holmes.
"The MBTA has allowed policies or customs to develop within its police department that have caused MBTA police officers to believe they can violate the Constitution with impunity. The MBTA’s investigation of Ms. Holmes’ complaint took only two months before deciding to exonerate Ms. Garvey despite video evidence showing she used excessive force," said attorney Friedman.
In the March 2014 incident between the officers and Ms. Holmes that sparked the lawsuit, Ms. Holmes saw Officer Garvey scream at and shove an older Black woman at the Dudley Square MBTA station in Roxbury. The situation worried Ms. Holmes, so she tried to calm the woman and asked Officer Garvey to stop being so aggressive. When these efforts failed, Ms. Holmes called 9-1-1 for help.
In a response captured on video, then-Officer Garvey and her partner, Officer Trinh, pepper-sprayed Ms. Holmes in the face, beat her with a metal baton, and arrested her, handcuffing her hands behind her back while forcing her to the ground. Ms. Holmes suffered visible injuries all over her body, including bruising on her arms and legs and an open wound nearly one and a half inches long on her leg. She was eventually transported to the hospital, where she remained for several hours and ultimately received stitches in her leg. During this time, it also took several hours before Ms. Holmes was allowed to make a phone call to make arrangements for her children.
The officers' actions violated Ms. Holmes' constitutionally protected rights to express her criticism of the police and to be free from excessive force and arrest without probable cause.
Click here for a copy of Holmes' complaint and video of the incident and to read more about her case.