RICHMOND, Va. -- When a passenger brutally assaulted GRTC bus driver Wayne Harvell when over COVID protocol in October 2021, Richmond Police charged the man with simple assault and released him a short time later. Officers did not watch the security video until the CBS 6 Problem Solvers started investigating.
Dexter Superville was charged with felony malicious wounding after investigators viewed the video.
"That was a fight for his life, so I wouldn't consider it misdemeanor assault," Harvell's attorney Sean Kavanagh said.
Since his attack, Harvell has hoped legislators would pass a law making assaulting a bus driver a felony.
In 2011, a state Senator introduced a bill that would do that, but it was heavily amended and never passed both chambers.
While no such legislation was proposed this year, State Delegate Delores McQuinn (D - Richmond) has sponsored a bill that would require anyone convicted of assaulting a public transportation vehicle operator to spend a mandatory minimum of two days behind bars.
"This at least begins a process that something must be done," McQuinn said. "We're going to bring it to everyone's attention that this is a problem and a challenge we are having among transit workers."
McQuinn said GRTC came to her for help during the pandemic due to an increase in assaults on their bus drivers.
There was a 275 percent increase in bus driver assaults between 2021 and 2022, according to numbers GRTC shared with McQuinn.
The data also showed that since 2017, GRTC had nine incidents in which the police were involved. Only two of the nine incidents were prosecuted.
"It may not be [enough], but we have got to start from somewhere," McQuinn said when the CBS 6 Problem Solvers asked if a mandatory minimum of two days in jail went far enough.
McQuinn's legislation made it out of subcommittee and will go to the full House for a vote.
State Delegate Tim Anderson (R - Virginia Beach) supported the bill in subcommittee but said he did not think he would support its final passage because he does not like mandatory minimums.
"I don't think the legislature should ever be telling judges what they should do, especially in misdemeanor cases," Anderson said.
McQuinn said some of her Democratic colleagues also oppose mandatory minimums and anything that would make more people felons, but she felt the bill was a good compromise.
"My heart goes out to this particular bus driver no ifs, ands, or butts about it," McQuinn said. "I thought it was imperative that we find ways to help address the dynamics they were dealing with."
A spokesperson for GRTC released the following statement in support of the legislation:
GRTC's position is always to support safety across our system, including protecting our operators. We are grateful Delegate McQuinn introduced legislation that would further protect our operators more than the current statute. The process in which legislation becomes law can be lengthy. We will explore all options for sharing the information once it is final, including possible announcements on the bus.
Last year, the state of New Jersey increased the amount of jail time a person will face if they assault a transit worker from 18 months to three to five years. They also upped the maximum fine they might have to pay.
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