A D.C. man who needed five cents to get home was hit in the face with chemical spray by a Metro police officer.
Damian Barnes, 21, had just taken a new job in Dupont Circle and was traveling back to his home in Southeast Washington last November. He found he didn’t have enough money on his SmartTrip metro card, and only dollar in his pocket. One nickel short of fare, he began soliciting five cents from passerby.
“I kind of go toward the turnstile to ask a couple of people,” Barnes told My Fox DC while watching the surveillance tape. “Knowing that it’s only five cents, I’m quite embarrassed to even ask. So I’m keeping my distance away from people, [asking] ‘Do you think maybe you can spare a quarter or five cents, so I can get home?’”
That's when a Metro Transit Police officer approached Barnes. After a brief exchange, the officer sprayed him in the face and pinned him to the floor.
Barnes said the policeman didn’t tell him that panhandling is illegal in Metro stations. He simply ordered him to leave over and over.
According to the police report, Barnes assumed a “combative stance” as if preparing to fight the officer. The report also says that the cop tried to escort Barnes out by the arm. Barnes says the video footage denies both those claims.
“There was no customer assistance at all,” Barnes said. “I was just being pretty much pushed away from him, too, while I was trying to understand why I had to leave. [Or] if there’s any other assistance I could get, since it’s such, you know, five cents. I was just kind of baffled.”
Barnes had to see paramedics to wash the chemical spray out of his eyes. He was then taken to the hospital for an evaluation and then to sit in jail for a few hours. Charges of panhandling and unlawful entry were dropped in court.
Barnes said his takeaway from the whole experience was to “have more money” at all times.