Metro officer who arrested teen carrying lollipop has history of complaints

A transit police officer who arrested and knocked down a teenager carrying a bag of chips and lollipop at a Metro station Tuesday — a scene captured on video that went viral on social media — has been linked to other incidents in which he was criticized for an excessive use of force.

The officer, Andy Vinh, was sued after he allegedly grabbed a 21-year-old woman around the neck and threw her to the ground in 2010 at the Gallery Place station, exposing the bottom half of her body. That was also captured on video.

And in June, Vinh made an arrest — again videotaped by a bystander — in which he uses force to push to the ground two teenagers who had been eating Wendy’s sandwiches on a Green Line train and did not leave the Metro system as ordered. Their mother filed a complaint, but Metro said it was “unable to substantiate that any form of excessive force was committed by the officer.”

Vinh’s lawyer says he did nothing wrong.

But on Thursday, D.C. Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) asked Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld to investigate Vinh’s actions from when he arrested the teen with the lollipop, saying the video “indicates an excessive use of force.” She also asked how Metro transit officers are trained to de-escalate conflicts.

“I am extremely concerned that WMATA police officers took the measures they did in detaining this young woman,” Nadeau wrote in a letter to Wiedefeld.

Wiedefeld pledged to investigate the events at the Columbia Heights station, which is in Nadeau’s district. “I do have a concern, obviously, when I saw the video,” Wiedefeld told reporters. “I have asked for a review of the situation because of those concerns.”

In the video of Tuesday’s arrest, Vinh grabs the arm of the handcuffed teenager and kicks backward onto one of her legs, forcing her to fall to the ground. Bystanders on the video are heard gasping. Vinh responds to the gathering crowd, “If you want to ride the system, put your card through and ride the trains. If not, leave the system.”

Vinh’s attorney, Morris E. Fischer, said Friday that his client was not permitted to discuss the incident in the media, citing Metro policy.

But Fischer said he believed his client’s actions were justified on both Tuesday and in 2010 at the Gallery Place station.

“As his attorney, I can state that I’ve seen both of these videos, and levelheaded people would agree with me that Mr. Vinh did nothing heinous here,” Fischer said. “He’s the victim of the cultural climate of truth through rabble-rousing and indignant generalities.”

In the 2010 Gallery Place incident. Karissa A. Ronkin, who was 21 at the time, was “horsing around on the platform” with two friends, according to her lawyers. Vinh told the group to leave the station, and they left temporarily, according to a lawsuit Ronkin later filed against Vinh and Metro.

“Believing that if they did not horse around, Officer Vinh would permit them to ride the Metro, Ms. Ronkin and her friends re-entered the Metro system at the same location,” court documents said.

After a back-and-forth in which Vinh demanded that the group leave again, Ronkin cursed at him, waved her hand “dismissively” and turned around and began to head toward the exit, the lawsuit said.

Vinh “caught up to Ms. Ronkin, grabbed her around the neck, and threw her to the ground,” her complaint said. The officer “spent the next three minutes repeatedly moving Ms. Ronkin’s sundress, purposefully exposing Ms. Ronkin’s red thong panties and naked buttocks to the general public.”

In her complaint, Ronkin claimed that a group of bystanders pleaded with Vinh to stop but he refused.

In a video of the event, which is on the Internet, Vinh is seen yelling “Stop resisting!” while putting his weight on her body, and she responds, crying, “I’m not!” and tries to pull her skirt down below her waist.

In court documents filed in response to Ronkin’s complaint, Vinh’s attorney says that she resisted arrest and was causing a significant disturbance by yelling profanities and that Vinh used “a reasonable amount of force” to subdue her.

“The video captures her resisting Defendant Vinh’s efforts to arrest her by walking away, pushing Officer Vinh away, and causing them both to fall to the ground, with Officer Vinh landing on top of her,” the documents said. “She also claims that Officer Vinh pulled her dress up exposing her undergarments. However, contrary to that allegation, the cell phone video never shows the Officer touching her dress in this manner at any time.”

The incident was later settled outside of court.

Vinh was terminated from Metro in November 2013 after his then-wife accused him of putting her in an armlock, and he was convicted by a judge of second-degree assault in Montgomery County. The conviction was later overturned on appeal by a jury.

Vinh was rehired by Metro in March 2014. He filed suit against Metro for failing to provide him with back pay and accrued seniority and benefits; his claim is pending.

Carlita Blocker, an Edgewood resident, said her daughter was also harmed by Vinh in June. LaShay Hagans, 18, was traveling with her sister and cousin when Vinh ordered them off a Green Line train and out of Metro because they were eating sandwiches from Wendy’s.

Blocker said the trio got off the train but did not leave the Georgia Avenue station because they did not have the money to take a taxi or re-enter at another station and continue home.

In the video taken during the arrest, Vinh handcuffs Hagans while she is lying facedown on the floor of the station. After the handcuffs are on, she tries to sit up, and he pushes her back down, sitting on her back as she screams that she is in pain. Her sister tries to get between her and Vinh, and he pushes them both down.

The teenager was charged with assaulting an officer and unlawful entry. Her mother said the charges were dropped in August.

When Blocker learned of the Columbia Heights station incident, she said, she was angry but not surprised.

“I was like, ‘Are you serious? This is the same man,’ ” Blocker said Friday. “Metro needs to fire him. I’m tired of hearing them say that they’re launching these botched investigations, and then nothing happens.”

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