An inquiry conducted by Metro has exonerated a bus driver accused in a complaint filed by a gay passenger that he agreed with another passenger whom the complaint says was glad that 49 people were shot to death at a gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12.
Gay D.C. resident Dwayne Smith, 54, stated in a written complaint filed with Metro that an adult male passenger who made the anti-gay remarks boarded the H8 bus in the city’s Brookland neighborhood on June 13, one day after the Orlando shooting incident.
Smith said he was sitting near the door of the bus and near the driver when the passenger in question boarded the bus and engaged the driver in a conversation. He said the passenger remained standing next to the driver.
“He said he was glad that they shot the gay people and talked negatively about gays and lesbians,” Smith stated in his complaint. “To my surprise, the bus driver was agreeing with everything he said,” Smith’s complaint says.
Metro’s Customer Services Director Jeremy Franklin contacted Smith the next day acknowledging that Metro received the complaint and informing Smith that Metro officials had opened an investigation into the matter.
In a July 11 email to Smith, James Wynne, acting chief of Metro’s Fair Practice division, informed Smith that the transit agency’s inquiry into the complaint found that it could not substantiate the claim that the driver said anything improper or agreed with the anti-gay statements made by the other passenger.
“My office has completed our inquiry into the allegations of anti-gay conduct you recently made against a Metro Bus Operator,” Wynne said in his email to Smith.
“It is unfortunate that the unidentified bus patron made the inappropriate anti-gay comments you witnessed, and which our bus operator acknowledged occurred,” Wynne said. “However, you acknowledged during our inquiry that you did not actually hear the bus operator makes any negative comments against gay citizens, and that you could only hear what the patron was saying.”
Wynne added, “It appears your complaint was based on your assumption that the bus operator agreed with the patron who was making the inappropriate comments.”
According to Wynne, the bus operator “stated that he was attempting to dissuade the patron from continuing his remarks in a low and calming voice. He further stated that this was his attempt to diffuse the situation.”
Smith told the Blade that he’s skeptical about the findings of the Metro inquiry.
“It just didn’t feel right,” he said. “It just felt like it was a corporate answer and a canned response.”
Smith acknowledged that he told a Metro official who called him in connection with the inquiry that he couldn’t hear exactly what the driver said to the passenger making the anti-gay remarks. But Smith said he believes the driver was expressing agreement with the passenger in a way that went beyond just attempting to be polite.
He said he is considering filing a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a copy of an audio recording of the driver’s conversation with the other passenger. Smith said a Metro source told him that Metro buses have both audio and video recording devices on buses as part of the transit system’s security measures.
Metro spokesperson Morgan Dye told the Blade on Wednesday that the claim by Smith’s source that city buses have audio recording devices was “not accurate.”
“Buses do not record conversations,” she said.
Although Wynne’s email statement to Smith didn’t specifically say that the Metro inquiry cleared the driver of any improper conduct associated with Smith’s complaint, Dye said Metro considers the findings of the inquiry to be a full exoneration of the driver from any wrongdoing.
“Bus Operators are specifically trained to diffuse situations and avoid conflict to prevent personal injury to themselves,” she said. “In the first half of this year alone, some 34 bus operators were the victims of assault by passengers.”