Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cleveland Judge Rules Fare Checks by Armed Police Unconstitutional

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cleveland Judge Rules Fare Checks by Armed Police Unconstitutional

Article excerpt

It isn't often Pittsburghers look to Cleveland for help, but in its fight against Port Authority's proposal to use armed police officers to enforce fare payment, the Don't Criminalize Transit Riders campaign will take what it can get.

The local group is pointing to a decision by a Cleveland municipal court judge last week as another reason why Port Authority shouldn't use armed officers to check for fare payment when the light-rail system begins cashless fares next year. Judge Emanuella Groves ruled that having armed officers check a bus full of passengers for payment - similar to what Port Authority is considering on light-rail vehicles - is an unconstitutional abuse of police powers.

The Cleveland case has no bearing in Allegheny County, but Laura Wiens of Pittsburghers for Public Transit said it is further evidence that fare enforcement should be handled by unarmed fare enforcement officers as a civil matter rather than a criminal matter. Her group is part of a coalition that includes the Thomas Merton Center, Casa San Jose and the Alliance for Police Accountability that claims using armed officers for enforcement could lead to dangerous confrontations with transit riders who are students, immigrants with limited English skills or people who have mental health issues.

In Cleveland, nonpayment can be either a civil or criminal matter, and Judge Groves ruled in a criminal case that armed officers demanding proof of payment from a busload of passengers is unconstitutional.

"I think we're celebrating the judge's decision in Cleveland," Ms. Wiens said. "You would hope the Port Authority would see the writing on the wall and move away from that system and not treat fare enforcement as a criminal matter."

In the Ohio judicial system, municipal judges can hold jury or non-jury trials in misdemeanor cases. In a July case, armed officers of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority pressed criminal fare evasion charges against a man who said the fare machine at his stop along the Healthline Bus Rapid Transit system was broken. …

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