Boston MA Jan 20 2017
By Evan Allen, Nicole Dungca and Jan Ransom
Michael Hathaway didn’t even have time to shield himself from the blow. The security guard gripped Hathaway’s cane with both fists and smashed it across his face, according to security footage of the incident described by MBTA Transit Police.
A disabled homeless man, Hathaway, 52, had been sitting alone and quiet on a bench in North Station around 9 a.m. on Dec. 22, when the private guard, contracted by TD Garden, had told him to leave. Hathaway gathered his things, authorities say, and walked toward the exit.
But in what authorities described as a sudden, unprovoked attack, guard Rene Norestant Jr., half Hathaway’s age and 110 pounds heavier, shoved Hathaway from behind into the exit door, punched or shoved him, then grabbed his cane and struck his head.
The violent encounter was captured on security footage, which MBTA Transit Police Superintendent Richard Sullivan described in detail to the Globe.
The alleged attack occurred at rush hour and was captured on camera and seen by several witnesses. But while Norestant was suspended, he was not fired or arrested until the Globe inquired about the incident this week. He was arrested late Tuesday night by Transit Police and charged with two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Boston Municipal Court.
In court on Wednesday, an assistant district attorney said Norestant told police that Hathaway swung first. The former guard was ordered to stay away from Hathaway and to stay out of TD Garden.
Interviews with several other homeless people, as well as commuters who say they have witnessed harassment at the train station, suggest the alleged attack was part of a pattern of alleged abuse carried out by TD Garden’s security guards, who are hired by contractor Allied Universal.
Three other homeless people filed police reports accusing guards of assault in June, July, and September. A woman on her way to work as a fund-raiser for Massachusetts General Hospital said she called 911 after witnessing the September attack and took pictures of the aftermath, which she shared with the Globe. In that attack, Norestant was named as the alleged assailant in the police report.
Hathaway and the other three alleged victims also shared their stories with the Globe, which initially received an anonymous tip about the December incident.
In a statement, a TD Garden spokeswoman said that “providing a safe and secure environment throughout the building and North Station is our top priority.”
Michael Hathaway staggered out of North Station after allegedly being beaten by a security guard with his own cane after the Dec. 22 attack in North Station.
“Allied Universal is our security contractor, and we are working closely with them and local authorities on these recent incidents, some of which were just brought to our attention,” said Tricia McCorkle. “We take these allegations seriously.’’
Allied Universal, which has been contracting for TD Garden for 30 years, said it will further train staff on conflict management and de-escalating situations.
“Together with TD Garden, we are working with local law enforcement and MBTA officials to address any violations of proper protocol,” Angela Burrell, a company spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We take any allegations extremely seriously and do not condone this type of behavior.”
The company is not aware of additional police reports filed involving security officers.
“Now that our team has been made aware, they will be reviewing these cases and re-training as necessary,” Burrell said.
Sullivan said Wednesday that transit and MBTA officials will meet with TD Garden officials in light of the Dec. 22 incident and “make it perfectly clear what is acceptable to the MBTA and what will not be tolerated.”
Boston police filed the initial report on the alleged attack and conducted the initial investigation even though Transit Police owned the video footage, Sullivan said. When asked about the incident, Sullivan said he viewed the security footage, spoke with Boston police, and both agencies agreed criminal charges should be brought against Norestant.
Both Transit Police officers and private security patrol the areas near North Station’s commuter rail platforms, which are located below TD Garden. The Garden is owned by the Delaware North Corp. and hosts games by the Boston Bruins and the Boston Celtics. Delaware North contracts out its security to Allied Universal, a large national company.
Transit Police and Boston police share law enforcement jurisdiction inside the station, Sullivan said. Security guards, who do not have police powers, are confined to a narrow swath of the station.
From now on, the security guards will be instructed to call Transit Police if they see something amiss on MBTA property, not respond themselves, Sullivan said. Transit Police will also increase their visibility at the station, he said.
“We are judged as a society on how we treat our most vulnerable citizens, and the Transit Police, regardless of ones’ race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or economic plot in life will treat all people equally and fairly,” Sullivan said. “If any one of these individuals [who allege private security abused them] would like to file a complaint with us, we encourage them to seek out a Transit Police officer and come to our headquarters, and they will be given the full attention they deserve.”
Brian Shortsleeve, the acting general manager of the MBTA, said “this conduct by a private security guard is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.”
For the homeless people who spend their days at North Station, the TD Garden concourse offers warmth, benches to sit on, and a McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. But in recent months, they said, they have become targets of the guards, who they say kick them out of the train station roughly and often without cause. Two of the homeless people who filed police reports also said they tried to speak with TD Garden officials but were ignored.
“If I was a man in a three-piece suit, I think they would have paid attention,” said Richard DePrimeo, 62, who filed a police report in June after he said a private guard dragged him across the floor. “If someone had listened to me at the time, Mike [Hathaway] wouldn’t have got what he got.”
DePrimeo used to spend every morning in North Station, eating hash browns and drinking coffee. He suffers from diabetes, has no feeling in his feet, and sometimes uses a cane. On the morning of June 7, he said, he got into an argument over pricing with a McDonald’s worker who called security. As he sat down in a seat near the McDonald’s, three security guards asked him to see his commuter rail ticket.
DePrimeo told the guards he would buy one after he finished his coffee. But one of the security guards grabbed him by the collar and yanked him onto the ground, he said. He then dragged him across the concourse and dumped him outside, DePrimeo said.
“Like a kid,” DePrimeo said. “You’re just gonna drag me across the floor like a bag of trash?”
DePrimeo said he tried to tell a TD Garden security official, but the man told him to stop bothering his guards.
Two days later, DePrimeo filed a report with Boston police. But the brief report simply said the officers “dragged him out of the building.” Boston Police spokesman Lieutenant Detective Michael McCarthy said the report was not assigned to a detective because it did not rise to the level of assault.
A month later, on July 8, 26-year-old Kourtney McLean said she accidentally dropped the coffee she was drinking inside North Station around 10:30 p.m. As she looked for napkins, she said, a security guard grabbed her arm and said, “Come on, you junkie homeless bitch.”
McLean, a slight woman, tried to free her arm, but the guard punched her in the face, she said. She fell to the ground, and the guard dragged her by the feet down the hallway to the exit, she said in an interview and in her police report, she said
McLean said she tried to report the incident to TD Garden security officials. But when she went back to the security office this week at the Globe’s request to ask for the report, she said she was not able to get it. TD Garden officials did not respond to questions about the status of the report or whether it was properly filed.
She reported the incident to Transit Police on July 9. Sullivan said that investigators searched for videotape of the encounter, but could not find any footage of it, and security guards denied the encounter took place. Detectives tried to contact McLean again but were not able to get in touch with her. The case is currently listed as “suspended,” Sullivan said.
McLean said the security guard had told her no one would believe her if she filed the report. She is close with Hathaway, and said that in some ways, he was lucky with his assault because it was witnessed by a commuter.
“The people that saw it are the right people,” she said. “They’re important people.”
About two months later, on Sept. 13, a commuter heading to her job at Mass General at around 10:15 a.m. said that as she approached North Station, she saw a security guard dragging a man by the arm, then throw him on the ground and begin kicking and punching him as other commuters watched. Friends identified the alleged victim as Michael O’Leary, and the Globe interviewed him. The guard was identified in the police report as Norestant.
The woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her privacy, said she screamed for the guard to stop. She called 911, she said, and took photos of the aftermath: In them, a guard holds O’Leary’s arm as the man tries to pull away.
O’Leary reported the incident to Boston police about two hours later. In the report, he said that Norestant had followed him telling him to leave, and then begun punching him when he asked Norestant why he was harassing him.
McCarthy, of the Boston police, said that a detective attempted to contact O’Leary repeatedly by phone and mail, but O’Leary never responded. The detective never reached out to the witness, McCarthy said, because without a victim the case could not go forward.
The same witness said she happened to pass by the station on Dec. 22, after Hathaway was beaten, and saw the splatter of blood in the doorway.
“To see it twice,” she said, incredulous. “How many times has it happened that I’m missing it?”
Hathaway, the man allegedly beaten with his cane, suffered two facial fractures during the incident and was hospitalized twice — once for the initial trauma and again when he began having flashbacks and became suicidal.
Hathaway is a recovering heroin addict who has spent time in prison. He once held a job in the construction industry, but now he spends his days — and many nights — outside.
The video of the beating contradicted the story Norestant told to police, said Sullivan, the Transit Police superintendent. Norestant told officers that Hathaway struck first, and he was defending himself. Norestant also twice told police that Hathaway used racial slurs against him, a charge which Hathaway denies. The videotape does not have audio.
Sullivan said the video showed Hathaway leaving, and Norestant hustling behind him to catch up as he walks away. When Hathaway neared the door, Norestant gave him a shove, and Hathaway smashed into the door, Sullivan said. Hathaway turned and feebly hit him in the leg with his cane. Norestant then punched or pushed Hathaway in the face or upper chest, and Hathaway fell into a sitting position, Sullivan said.
Norestant picked up Hathaway’s cane, Sullivan said, and appeared to look around to see if anyone was watching, and then slammed the cane down on Hathaway’s face.