Police, union protest charge in assault on bus driver

George Hunter
The Detroit News
DDot buses. The federal program funds technologies that are ready to be deployed to boost traffic capacity for commuters and businesses.

Detroit police and the president of the union that represents Detroit bus drivers are upset at a decision by Wayne County prosecutors to charge a man with a misdemeanor after investigators say he was videotaped hitting and stomping a driver.

Eric Dashawn Johnson, 23, of Mount Clemens was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery after he allegedly punched and kicked a 50-year-old Detroit Department Of Transportation bus driver.

The incident happened at 10 p.m. Saturday near Woodward and W. Grand Boulevard, when Johnson boarded the bus and allegedly began arguing with the driver.  

"It is alleged that, upon arrival, the victim told the transit officers that Defendant Johnson’s bus ticket had expired," Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller said in a press release.

"It is further alleged that, despite the victim’s offer to override the ticket and give Johnson a free ride, Johnson attacked the driver, punched him in the face, grabbed him from his seat and pulled him to the bus floor and kicked the victim.

"Johnson then fled the scene on foot," Miller said. "Detroit police officers on patrol nearby, alerted by the transit officers, observed Johnson walking on Cass Avenue and placed him under arrest."

Detroit Police Detective Michael Pacteles was assigned the case. He said after reviewing the evidence, he submitted a warrant to prosecutors seeking a felony aggravated assault charge against Johnson. 

"I detailed the whole thing in my investigative report: That the driver was kicked in the back of the head, stomped, and punched multiple times," Pacteles said. "This wasn't just a fight; it was an aggravated assault. He could have also have been charged with interfering with a city worker during the performance of his duty, but that didn't happen, either."

Pacteles said the victim spent the night in Henry Ford Hospital and was given a CAT scan.

"He was roughed up pretty good," he said. "That's why I was shocked to hear the prosecutor was only charging (Johnson) with a misdemeanor. What kind of message does this send to the citizens? What kind of message does it send to the bus drivers?"

Miller stood behind the charging decision.

"The victim was interviewed and it was determined that facts and evidence in the case are consistent with the misdemeanor, assault and battery," she said in an email.

Fred Westbrook, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, which represents DDOT bus drivers, called the charging decision "unbelievable." 

"It's crazy," Westbrook said. "It's appalling. (Johnson) snatched the driver right out of his seat and hit him and stomped him. We're going to look at sending a letter to the prosecutors about this."

Johnson was arraigned Monday before 36th District Court Magistrate Laura Echartea. He was given $10,000 bond/10 percent. A pretrial hearing has been scheduled for July 12.

If convicted, Johnson faces up to 93 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. Aggravated assault carries up to a year in prison and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

A grainy video of the incident shows a man yelling at the driver, "I need a transfer." He takes a few steps toward the rear of the bus before throwing a punch with his left hand.

The driver jumps up from his seat and grapples with the passenger, who hits him again with a right. The man then is seen on video stomping the driver before the two leave the view of the bus surveillance camera.

Westbrook said assaults on bus drivers have prompted U.S. House Bill 6016, the Bus Operator and Pedestrian Protection Act, which was introduced last month. The bill would require the development of a bus operations safety risk reduction program.

"There's no doubt we're facing danger," Westbrook said.

For years, DDOT drivers have complained about the dangers they face. In 2007, 2011 and 2013, the bus drivers union staged walkouts because of safety issues. In September, union officials passed a resolution demanding the city address problems that included drivers being assaulted by passengers.

In November 2011, about 100 drivers refused to cover their routes because they were upset about the beating of a driver at the Rosa Parks Transit Center downtown. Two years later, DDOT drivers picketed City Hall to protest crime on city buses, 

In 2015, DDOT installed cameras on buses and at the Rosa Parks Transit Center.

"We’re supposed to have a safe environment for our transit system," Pacteles said. "A lot of citizens rely on the bus system to get around, and you don't want them feeling unsafe.

"Charging someone with a misdemeanor after he punches and kicks a driver multiple times is not a good way to make your citizens feel safe on the buses," Pacteles said.

(313) 222-2134
Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN