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NYC DAs say Albany law would bolster transit worker assault cases

NYC DAs say Albany law would bolster transit worker assault cases

A state proposal to impose harsher punishment on people who attack and spit on transit workers will also help bolster cases against assailants, prosecutors said Wednesday.

According to current law, if a straphanger spits on someone and a police officer doesn’t witness it, they cannot make an arrest, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez explained during a press conference alongside his Queens, Staten Island and Bronx counterparts.

But under the union-backed law tucked into Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget plan in January, prosecutors could use witness statements to hold attackers accountable.

“Normally we think there are enough penalties in the law for us to keep people safe and protect our communities. This is an area where we know it’s not,” said Gonzalez.

“When we ask for this to be an increased penalty, raising this [to] an aggravated harassment charge, it’s so that law enforcement can hold people accountable for assaulting our transit workers.”

The proposal — which all five city DAs endorsed last month — includes language to make spitting or other forms of aggravated harassment against transit workers punishable by up to one year behind bars. It would also add more positions to the list of transit workers it is a felony to attack.

Pierre Jean, an MTA bus driver and spitting assault victim speaking on March 3, 2021.
Pierre Jean, an MTA bus driver and spitting assault victim speaking on March 3, 2021.
Paul Martinka

The five district attorneys spoke alongside leaders of nearly every major MTA union, including those repping Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road workers.

“Spitting on someone is disgusting, especially despicable during this hazardous time where it can lead to very serious health consequences,” Bronx DA Darcel Clark told reporters.

“We must do all we can to protect train and bus operators and others in the transit system, who have performed their jobs unfailingly.”

There were 311 instances of harassment or assault on transit workers through the first eight weeks of 2021, according to MTA stats.

“We are tired of going home with blood on our uniforms,” TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano said. “It’s got to stop.”

An MTA spokesman said the agency supports Gov. Cuomo’s proposal.

An MTA bus driver in Manhattan on April 13, 2020.
An MTA bus driver in Manhattan on April 13, 2020.
Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/VIEWpress via Getty Images

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James Thompson

James Thompson has worked in various news organizations and now aims to make Report Door one of the best and fastest growing news websites in the U.S. He contributes to the US and World sections.

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