Wheelchair Beating Prompts Questions, Arrest, Lawsuit
WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) --- When Dwight Harris was lifted from his wheelchair near the U Street Metro stop last May and slammed to the ground by Metro Transit Police, his friend Lawrence Miller saw Harris bleeding on the sidewalk and asked police what they were doing.
Police say they had arrested Harris for drinking in public in violation of the open container law, resisting arrest and failure to move on.
They told Miller to move on after he questioned them about their behavior and telling them to get help for the bleeding Harris. Miller says he did so, but says he was arrested as he walked away and was charged with inciting violence, assaulting a police officer and disturbing the peace.
All those charges were dropped, and Miller is now suing Metro police for violating his First Amendment right to Free Expression.
Metro, citing a policy of not commenting on pending litigation, would not talk about the case to 9News Now.
The two officers were placed on administrative duty while Metro conducted an internal investigation. And, when the US Attorney declined to bring a civil rights case against the officers, they were returned to full duty.
"Mr. Miller is innocent of any criminal activity and he was arrested falsely by police and we think it was because he spoke up. That makes it a moment when we can try to teach police that citizens get to speak up and shouldn't be arrested for it," said Fritz Mulhauser, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.
"The First Amendment to the Constitution protects Freedom of Expression and that's what was happening on the sidewalk. Mr. Miller was expressing concern for his friend," Mulhauser said.
"We would like the Metro Transit Police to have some more training for their officers about Freedom of Expression in the street, and we would like them to compensate Mr. Miller for his trouble of being arrested for no reason," Mulhauser told 9News Now.
Can citizens question police if they don't interfere with legitimate police operations?
"The Right is well established. It just has to be re-emphasized over and over every year and every decade that the citizens have that right in case some officers haven't got the message yet," he said.
"I do believe that justice needs to be served because you can not have this kind of behavior and nobody says anything.
"You know, everybody stands around and watches. Everybody wants to see what's going on, but nobody says anything. I happen to be the individual to say something and I caught the brunt from it. I'm not upset that I caught the brunt from it. I'm not upset that I got the brunt from it because my grandmother always told me if you don't stand for something then you'll fall for anything," Miller told 9News Now on Monday evening.
"I believe that anybody and everyone has the right to question police about what they are doing, any and everyone whether you are homeless on the street, whether you have a million dollars, everyone has the right to ask what are you doing, why are you doing this," Miller said.