A gay man said he and his partner were beaten and robbed on a Green Line Metro train shortly after 1 a.m. on Nov. 22 by as many as a dozen or more teenagers during a harrowing ride in which the train conductor ignored their pleas over an emergency call box to stop the train and call police.
Gaithersburg, Md., resident Calvin Lawrence, 48, and his partner Joseph Cowart, 43, feared for their lives as the youths menaced them and other passengers while the train conductor continued to operate the train “as if nothing had happened” for at least four stops between the Fort Totten and Shaw-Howard University stations, Lawrence said.
Although the train stopped at each of the stations, Lawrence said the conductor quickly closed the doors and continued moving the train to the next station instead of waiting for police to arrive as Lawrence said he urged the conductor to do over the emergency intercom system.
Meanwhile, at least one of the male attackers called Cowart a “faggot” while kicking him in the head and chest after several of the attackers knocked him to the floor, according to Lawrence, who contacted the Blade about the incident last week.
Metro spokesperson Dan Stessel said the case is being actively investigated by the Metro Transit Police Department.
“MTPD officers stopped multiple individuals matching the description of the suspects that night,” Stessel told the Blade in an email. “However, none could be positively identified by the victims,” he said.
“MTPD detectives continue to review hours of video footage from stations up and down the Green Line to identify potential suspects,” Stessel said. “These images will be developed into a photo spread and presented to the victims to see if any suspect(s) can be positively identified.”
Lawrence disputes Stessel’s claim that none of the victims could identify any of the suspects stopped by police.
“They showed me one girl and one guy and I couldn’t I.D. them,” he said. “But Joey did I.D. the girl that hit him.”
Stessel released to the Blade a redacted version of the Metro Transit Police report of the incident. The report lists the incident as a “robbery force and violence.” It specifically says the incident was not a hate crime.
Similar to Lawrence’s account to the Blade, the report says the incident started when “a group of disorderly juveniles” were on the train and that one of them, listed as Suspect 1, robbed a 14-year-old boy, identified only as Victim 1, of his iPhone.
The report says Victim 2, whom Lawrence identifies as his partner Joseph Cowart, attempted to stop Suspect 1 from targeting the 14-year old, prompting Suspect 1 to “proceed to punch and kick” Cowart “about the right temple, both knees, right shin, and left ribs causing abrasions.”
As Lawrence tells it, Suspect 1 is a teenage girl who he observed a few minutes earlier walking up and down the train car acting suspiciously. He said the girl attacked the 14-year-old boy shortly after Cowart got up to look at a Metro map and was standing near where the attack occurred.
“The next thing I know I hear Joey go, hey, stop that,” Lawrence told the Blade. “Well that girl and six other youth – they had beaten up the kid and took his tennis shoes. So Joseph went to the call box, the emergency call box…to let the driver know, hey, there are people getting jumped by a mob of teenagers.”
Assuming the train conductor would keep the train in place at the next station while calling police, Lawrence said he signaled Cowart to meet him at the train door to make a quick exit and call for help.
But by the time he reached the train door he saw that the girl who had attacked the 14-year-old boy had grabbed Cowart by his sweatshirt.
“By the time I got to him the girl had pounded him in the head,” he said. “And then all of a sudden out of nowhere 12 teenagers had him down on the ground kicking him in the head, stomping him in the chest,” Lawrence recounted. “I threw myself into the middle of it,” he said, adding, “I tried to get him up and they stole his iPad and iPhone and all of that.”
Lawrence said he was especially concerned because Cowart had suffered a stroke 10 years ago due to a ruptured blood vessel in the left side of his brain near where the attackers were hitting him in the head.
In the midst of the commotion he managed to pull Cowart, who was bleeding, away from the attackers and joined other passengers in fleeing into another train car, Lawrence said. To his and Cowart’s dismay, he said the train conductor continued to operate the train, stopping briefly at the next few stations and continuing along the Green Line route.
Lawrence said he and Cowart stepped into the door and looked into the station each time the train stopped, but were afraid to get off because the stations appeared deserted and they feared the attackers – who could be seen in the next train car – might come after them.
It was not until the train reached the Shaw-Howard University Station that he saw a Metro employee sweeping the floor next to the escalators that he shouted for help. This time the train remained stopped and within minutes Metro Police officers arrived on the scene, Lawrence said.
He said police immediately called for an ambulance, which took Cowart to nearby Howard University Hospital, according to the police report.
“The call to summon police came from the train operator,” said Stessel, who answered “no” when asked if the train operator was being investigated for acting improperly by not stopping the train sooner.
Lawrence said he was troubled when told by the Blade that the Metro Police report doesn’t list the incident as a hate crime.
“They were making fun of him before they fully came up because his right side – he doesn’t have full use of it,” said Lawrence in describing the effects of Cowart’s stroke.
“Sometimes his hands sit in a certain way,” Lawrence said. “And the kids were walking by doing that gay fag thing. And when the guy was kicking him he was calling him fag.”
Stessel said police may not have listed the case as a hate crime because Cowart wasn’t the original target of the attackers.
“In this case, the original crime is the robbery of Victim 1,” he said. “Victim 2 [Cowart] was not the target of the robbery, and he was assaulted by the suspect only after attempting to come to the aid of Victim 1, who was not known to him,” Stessel said.
“A bias motivation can be added by prosecutors when the case is papered if the evidence will support it,” Stessel continued in his email to the Blade. “This remains an open and active investigation.”
He noted that Metro Police listed the 2014 stabbing of a teenage transgender woman on a Metro train as a hate crime. In that case, the victim and her friends reported that a suspect who was arrested on the scene shouted anti-trans slurs at the victim immediately before stabbing her. The victim was treated for non-life threatening wounds.