RICHMOND, Va. -- Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) CEO Julie Timm has personally apologized after the company initially suspended a bus driver without pay after a passenger assaulted him. The October 11 incident happened on Chamberlayne Avenue in Gilpin Court. The union representing the bus driver said GRTC's initial response was wildly unfair.
"He brutally kicked the operator at least four times," Maurice Carter, a former GRTC driver and President of ATU-Local 1220, said.
Video captured by bystanders showed the rider kicking the driver.
The 13-second clip, released by ATU-Local 1220, did not show what happened leading up to or following the 13-second clip.
Carter said the customer threatened the driver's life for no reason, which prompted the driver to radio dispatch, stop the bus, and get off.
"The customer came outside and physically assaulted the operator," Carter said.
After being out of work for several days to recover, Carter said the driver was suspended with no pay for one day.
"He basically is being punished for being assaulted," Carter said. "I'm still trying to understand it."
When asked about the initial suspension, a GRTC spokesperson said during an initial review of the situation, there was one moment when the driver could have used better de-escalation techniques during the encounter but added GRTC did not want to victim blame.
"The operator did a great job following protocols to prevent an incident," the spokesperson said.
Carter said the driver also asked GRTC not to put him on the same route for fear that he might see that customer again. That request, he said, was denied.
"The second day back to work on that route the customer that assaulted him actually got back on the bus," Carter said.
Carter said he wanted GRTC to rescind the suspension, pay the driver for that day, and back drivers when they try to protect themselves.
"I want to see them try to protect the operators more and not be so quick to judge and punish the operators for trying to defend themselves," Carter said.
Responding to questions from the CBS 6 Problem Solvers, Timm sent a statement.
"This morning, I reviewed the internal video footage of the assault and concluded that our bus Operator was not at fault. I have directed staff to process back-pay for the one-day suspension and remove the discipline from the operator’s record. I am personally apologizing to our Operator for the suspension which added undue stress on him after being assaulted. I believe the Operator followed their safety and de-escalation training correctly and was still inexcusably attacked by the passenger. I am deeply grateful that the operator was not seriously injured; however, I recognize this assault could have ended tragically. I am personally overseeing a full review of all of our safety and communications protocols to provide better support and protection for our Operators and for all of our staff.”
GRTC has seen an increase in verbal and physical assaults since 2020, according to the transit company.
In 2020 there were 28 incidents. So far in 2021, there have been 35.
"Any assault at all is too many, and the number of assaults has increased under the pandemic," Timms statement continued. "GRTC has been actively working over the past year to implement better protections for our operators through several initiatives. Safety is working towards technology that would link a panic-button to live feed cameras on all buses that could be accessed by Police."
Richmond Police arrested the passenger following the incident, according to a GRTC spokesperson.
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