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Advanced Towing truck in Clarendon

(Updated, 10:35 p.m.) The Arlington Circuit Court finally came to a decision in Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s lawsuit against Advanced Towing after last month’s multi-day trial.

The court has ordered the towing company, whose tactics have angered many in Arlington, to pay a civil penalty of just $750 for five separate violations. That’s a far cry from the $650,900 that the Attorney General’s office was seeking at trial.

“Although the Defendant’s conduct is sanctionable, the Court is constrained by the remedies available in both the Virginia and Arlington County Code,” wrote Judge William Newman in an opinion letter sent to both sides late Wednesday afternoon.

Additionally, the court did not issue an injunction against the towing company, writing that while there were “deficiencies” in Advanced Towing’s business practices and record keeping, the court “does not find evidence to issue a permanent injunction against Defendant.”

Chap Petersen, Advanced Towing’s attorney — as well as a Virginia state Senator — said at trial that he believed “the office of the Attorney General wants to put my client out of business.” He said the ruling largely vindicates the company and owner John O’Neill.

“While disappointed that the Court made any findings against our client, we feel vindicated in that the Court only assessed a $750 fine for the [five] found violations,” writes Petersen in a statement to ARLnow.

The court assessed one $150 civil penalty for not safely securing consumer vehicles with straps, one $150 civil penalty for not updating contract changes for a commercial parking lot in Ballston, and three $150 civil penalties for employing three drivers that were not registered with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).

During the trial, the AG’s office, represented by Assistant Attorney General Erin Witte, called Advanced Towing’s practices “predatory, illegal, and dangerous.” To prove this, they called up a parade of witnesses, including Arlington County police officers and drivers who had their cars towed.

The court found merit in only some of the Attorney General’s claims.

The AG’s office argued that Advanced Towing didn’t clearly mark parking spaces at the Ballston lot, near Gold’s Gym on Wilson Blvd, leaving consumers confused. However, the court ruled the spots were properly labeled and signs properly posted and, therefore, didn’t assess a civil penalty.

Additionally, the AG’s office claimed that Advanced Towing didn’t have copies of towing contracts available for public inspection. But the court ruled that the relevant contracts were available to the public and, also, didn’t assess a civil penalty for that.

“Advanced Towing has been found to have violated the law and it’s time for the company to clean up its act. I am disappointed that the Court only awarded $750 in civil penalties and did not award restitution to consumers, especially the victims of Advanced’s dangerous towing practices who voluntarily testified in court to tell their story,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring wrote in a statement to ARLnow. “Advanced Towing has employed predatory and illegal towing practices for years, costing Virginia consumers hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, and it deserves to be held accountable for its actions. I am proud of the hard work my Consumer Protection Section has done on this case, and we will not stop going after bad actors who prey on Virginians just trying to go about their daily lives.”

Petersen noted that, before the trial, the Attorney General’s office offered to settle the case over the summer for $780,000 and an injunction against certain practices by the company.

“I think the difference between the AG’s offer and the Court’s decision speaks for itself,” he said.

While it remains possible that the Attorney General could appeal the ruling, Herring lost his bid for a third term last week, putting further action in the case into question.

A final decree is scheduled to be presented to both sides in court on December 10.

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The former Uber driver who allegedly struck Advanced Towing owner John O’Neill last year entered a plea agreement on July 23.

Gigssa Bekele Bengessa pleaded guilty to reckless driving in a parking lot and to a felony hit and run. He will face some jail time and three years of probation.

In January 2020, Bengessa attempted to drive out of the towing lot in Ballston as O’Neill was closing the gate, according to a police report from the time. Bengessa struck him, a dumpster and light pole.

Per the plea agreement, provided to ARLnow, he will be sentenced to jail for a net of 10 days — 90 days, with 80 days suspended. During the time of his suspended sentence, he will be supervised. His driver’s license will be suspended for six months.

Provided that Bengessa meets all the court’s prescriptions over the next three years, he will be able to have the felony charge knocked down to a misdemeanor, the agreement said.

Bengessa has three years to pay court costs as well as $5,516.35, plus interest, to O’Neill for restitution.

He is being required to “follow all treatment recommendations made” after a psychologist’s evaluation from March 2020, according to the plea deal, and will “undergo any further mental health evaluations deemed appropriate” by his probation officer.

Further, Bengessa will be “prohibited from driving or operating any and all rideshare vehicles, including but not limited to: Uber, Lyft, taxi service, or any vehicle for hire,” the plea deal said.

The agreement comes as the Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring, is preparing to go to trial in a lawsuit against Advanced Towing. The suit was filed in June 2020 and a trial date is scheduled for Oct. 6 of this year.

Herring’s complaint alleges that Advanced Towing has violated state and county towing code provisions, resulting in towing conduct that is “frequently predatory, aggressive, overreaching and illegal.”

“Virginia consumers should not have to worry about towing companies acting illegally or employing predatory, unsafe business practices,” Herring said in a statement last year. “My team and I will continue to hold towing companies and bad actors accountable when they break the law and take advantage of consumers.”

This is not the first time such an accusation has been leveled against the company. Advanced, which tows cars that are considered to be trespassing on private lots and then charges the vehicle’s owner a fee, faces frequent accusations of “predatory” towing.

The company gained national notoriety in 2015 after video emerged of an ESPN reporter, whose car was towed, berating an Advanced employee.

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(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) A multi-year legal battle between a family and Arlington Public Schools over the appropriateness of their child’s special education support ended this summer with a decision in APS’s favor, handed down by federal court.

While the avenues for dispute resolution dead-end there for the family, the decision provides an insight into how fraught the special education system can be. What is supposed to be a collaborative effort among schools and parents can turn into a grueling legal process if the parents and the school system disagree over aspects of the child’s disability or which setting best meets their needs.

In this case, the parents sued APS, requesting it pay for tuition at a private day school that — according to them — would be better for their child than Williamsburg Middle School. The federal court decision said APS did not have to pay the cost of tuition.

The court also overturned a lower ruling by a state officer who said the school system should reimburse the parents for a private evaluation they obtained. A psychologist found their child exhibited disabilities that APS did not find in their evaluation.

This case reveals how some decisions favor schools partially because parents make procedural missteps before they realize that every step of the process could become evidence in a hearing later on, special education lawyer Juliet Hiznay tells ARLnow.

She said both the hearing officer and the federal decision were well-reasoned, and that the parents made a couple of common errors.

“A lot of parents get caught up in sort of what I call traps for the unwary: not preserving their claims, not communicating them during meetings, not getting them on the record,” she said.

That the case reached federal court is also exceedingly rare, because the special education legal system is set up to have these issues resolved in meetings and mediation sessions, she said. The parents sued after an administrative process with an independent hearing officer did not go in their favor.

“There is a risk associated with doing this. There’s an emotional toll, and practical price to pay: School districts don’t like being sued, so the relationship gets destroyed when you sue a school division,” she said. “And many parents are afraid, and some of them have more than one child, and they don’t want to risk any kind of retaliation by the school district.”

One family’s experience

The boy at the center of the lawsuit is currently attending a private school in Sterling, Virginia, according to federal court documents. The home school is Nottingham Elementary School, which he attended from kindergarten through fourth grade.

While at Nottingham, his parents and school officials noticed he struggled academically and socially. During an assessment in the first grade, he “presented with difficulty in a number of different areas” including reading, writing and math, attention and organization and making friends, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the parents.

He was given an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a document outlining the services the school will provide, under the category of “specific learning disability.” But by fourth grade, he “still continued to struggle greatly,” per the lawsuit.

According to Virginia Department of Education data, APS has been providing services to steadily more children with presumed or diagnosed specific learning disabilities in the last four years.

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Morning Notes

Prelude to Speed Cameras in Arlington — “This week the D.C. region’s Transportation Planning Board announced it is awarding a $60,000 grant to help Arlington with its plans to install the first-ever speed cameras in the county. The TPB says the money will go towards consulting services to help Arlington County install speed cameras in a fair, data-driven manner.” [WJLA]

NAACP Wanted Stronger Police Oversight — “Despite the County Board’s recent adoption of a Community Oversight Board (COB) ordinance, we are disappointed that the County Board refused to adopt the General Assembly-approved authority for the COB to be truly independent and to make binding disciplinary determinations. Nevertheless, we will work with all parties to ensure that the process is equitable and transparent.” [Press Release]

Judge’s Ruling on Rouse Estate Suit — “On May 14, Reeder filed a challenge to the county board’s rejection of local historic district status that some hoped would have protected the now-demolished 160-year-old Febrey-Lothrop house… Judge DiMatteo said Reeder faced ‘an uphill battle.’ The community ‘is not voiceless,’ she said. A community member can speak to board members and, if one doesn’t like their decision, ‘vote them out.’ But without standing, that party can’t appeal in court. Virginia law, she said, requires an ‘aggrieved party.’ She rejected Reeder’s claim.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Friday Carbeque on Route 29 — “Video from van fire and fuel leak impacting traffic on eastbound Lee Highway at Kirkwood.” [Twitter, Twitter]

GOP Blasts County for Biden Event — “Arlington County is misusing taxpayer resources and county bandwidth to actively promote a partisan campaign rally. One-party rule in Arlington continues to produce a lack of accountability for our elected leaders and county officials. Not only are they actively promoting a political event, they also went a step further to link to the event RSVP page.” [Press Release]

Guess the Price of This House — “The beauty of this 5,227 square-foot lot in Arlington, VA, is in its simplicity. Along with being a short Uber ride to Washington, DC, amenities include: Attached garage with one parking space, Big trees, Water heater (not new, just one in general), Great location to build on if you’re cool with bulldozing the home. How much for the world’s most average house?” [Morning Brew, Zillow]

Reminder: Vote in This Week’s Arlies — Do you have a favorite preschool or daycare you take your children to? Cast your vote in this week’s Arlies category by midday tomorrow. [ARLnow]

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Morning Notes

ACPD Hosting Community Chats — “Chief Andy Penn appreciates the important insights our residents and businesses bring to the conversation about the role of policing. He invites community members, organizations and businesses to join him for a series of Community Conversations.” [ACPD, Twitter]

Court Rejects Rouse Estate Suit — “I want to thank Arlington Green Party Chair John Reeder for challenging Arlington County Board’s decision exactly three months to the day to deny local historic designation for the site of the since demolished Febrey-Lothrop-Rouse estate… Unfortunately just yesterday Arlington Circuit Court denied Reeder standing to sue the County, arguing that he is not an aggrieved party, because his property doesn’t abut the estate.” [Audrey Clement]

New Ballston Restaurant Sells Collectables — “If you find yourself wandering through Whino, Ballston’s new immersive art, restaurant, and retail concept, be sure to browse the limited-edition designer toys up for sale. You could get your hands on a reimagined, nostalgic Wonder Woman figurine or a quirky Sriracha-inspired vinyl sculpture that might be worth a chunk of change in the future.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Theater Company to Return to Theater — “Dominion Stage, which like most performing-arts organizations has seen its in-person events canceled during the COVID pandemic, expects to inaugurate its 71st season early next month with a performance of ‘The Bluest Eye.’ The drama by Lydia R. Diamond is adapted from a novel by Toni Morrison, and will directed by Eleanore Tapscott. Performances will run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from Aug. 6-21 at 8 p.m. at Gunston Arts Center, 2700 South Lang St.” [Sun Gazette]

High School Rowing Roundup — “High-school rowing teams had a strong showing at the spring season’s Virginia State Rowing Championships on the Occoquan Reservoir. Girls shells from Wakefield, Washington-Liberty and Yorktown high schools all won gold medals on a hot and humid day of racing near the Sandy Run Regional Park Boathouse.” [Sun Gazette]

Wakefield Grads Get Scholarships — “The Wakefield High School Education Foundation recently awarded scholarships to members of the Wakefield High School Class of 2021. Students attending four-year schools will receive $12,000 each, with others receiving $4,000. In addition, four Beitler Inspiration Scholars were named and will receive one-time grants of between $1,200 and $1,500.” [Sun Gazette]

Reminder: Vote for Your Favorite Dentist — There’s one day left to vote for this week’s Arlies award category: favorite dentist. [ARLnow]

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Wearing a clock as a necklace for turning papers in late. Carrying a hose stuffed with sand and rocks for losing a flag.

These were two “alternative learning opportunities” or ALOs that one instructor in Arlington County Fire Department’s Training Academy allegedly prescribed to former firefighter EMT recruit Brett Ahern in one week for mistakes that he made.

Two months ago, Ahern cited these ALOs as examples of how he was unfairly targeted by the instructor and set up to fail, according to an exclusive report by Hagerstown TV station WDVM. He told the news outlet that the way he was treated during the academy last year made him anxious and unfocused. Even after an investigation, he said the hazing continued until he failed two tests and was dismissed.

A 54-page Human Resources report, shared with ARLnow, indicates that the fire department investigated Ahern’s claims last summer. The heavily redacted report identified firefighters and recruits who observed that Ahern specifically was yelled at, taunted and tasked with ALOs that no other recruit was given. It also found that five other recruits were occasional targets of the same instructor.

ACFD told WDVM and repeated to ARLnow that it is committed to making changes to each subsequent class recruit class. At least one change has been made since Ahern — part of the 78th class — failed out of the academy. Recruit Class 79, which graduated in May, did not have alternative learning opportunities, according to Lt. Nate Hiner, the spokesman for the department.

“The Arlington County Fire Department makes improvements each Recruit Class, building off lessons learned from previous classes,” Hiner said. “The ACFD has discontinued the use of ALO’s, ensuring that any supplemental training focuses solely on refinement and reinforcement of proper skills, techniques, and procedures that recruits will utilize as firefighter/EMT’s protecting the community.”

Previously, Fire Chief David Povlitz told WDVM that if a recruit made a mistake during training, an instructor would make time for these so-called ALOs, which are “meant to reinforce learning and they have to be approved by high-ranking officers.”

But according to the newly-shared HR report, multiple witnesses who were interviewed during the investigation said that the two ALOs that Ahern was given during his “Hell Week” — wearing the clock and carrying the heavy hose — were beyond the pale.

One recruit said the hose in particular — punishment for losing a flag, or guidon — was “straight up bullying.”

“When [recruits] lost the guidon before, they were given the ‘ghetto guidon,'” one interviewee said, “but when Recruit Ahern lost the guidon, he was given” this heavy hose, which the speaker called “an impossible guidon.”

The report said other interviewees “opined that this ALO, although warranted, was orchestrated by [the instructor] to ‘break’ Recruit Ahern.” They added that “the ALO would have been handled differently had it been assigned to another recruit.”

Aside from these ALOs, multiple independent witnesses said the instructor was vocal about his belief that Ahern did not deserve to be in the academy, and that he would yell — or at least would raise his voice — at Ahern in front of his peers.

Five witnesses confirmed that the instructor had Ahern accompany another recruit who asked to retrieve his sunglasses. On their return, the instructor said the recruits were two minutes late and the class had covered “a lot of material.” He told the recruits that he hoped their next test would cover this missed information, adding, “I hope you f— fail it!”

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Morning Notes

Big Changes Proposed for Shirlington — “A proposal to re-imagine the streets of Shirlington is being put forward. Last July, the Arlington County Board approved mixed-use rezoning for nearly ten acres of the Village at Shirlington. Now, Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) is putting forth a vision to transform the streetscape throughout the area… Campbell Avenue will be the focal point for these improvements, updated with patterned pavers and interactive sculptures.” [UrbanTurf]

Yorktown Soccer in State Final — “Somewhere in the mess of bodies, Patriots senior Gibson Lusk poked the ball into the net. It gave Yorktown a lead for good and punctuated the full turnaround of a game that started slow and sloppy for the Patriots. Now, they are headed to the Virginia Class 6 title game after a 3-1 victory Monday.” [Washington Post]

Huske Reacts to Olympic Qualification — “In her first on-camera interview since returning from Omaha, Torri talked with 7News sports anchor Scott Abraham about her incredible journey to the Olympic Games. ‘At first it was very overwhelming, I feel like it’s just so unbelievable that this would happen to me of all people,’ Huske told Abraham… ‘I never thought I would be in this position and it’s really weird to think that some little kid looks up to you.'” [WJLA]

Feds Off Hook, But ACPD Still Being Sued — “A federal judge has dismissed multiple claims filed by protesters and civil liberties groups after law enforcement forcefully cleared demonstrators from Lafayette Square Park ahead of Donald Trump’s infamous photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church last summer…. The judge did allow litigation to proceed against D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department and Arlington County Police, however.” [DCist]

Amazon Donated Antiracism Books to APS — “The emails show Amazon employees reached out to Arlington Public Schools as part of ‘NeighborGood,’ a program to donate $100,000 to schools and other institutions that ’empower black voices and serve black communities.’ Despite Amazon’s offer to purchase Kindles or other equipment, Arlington Public Schools director of diversity and inclusion Arron Gregory requested copies of [Ibram X.] Kendi’s Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. Amazon donated between 500-600 copies of the book to Wakefield High School and paid $10,000 to have Kendi’s coauthor Jason Reynolds address students.” [Washington Free Beacon]

Crystal City Metro Mural Finalists Selected — “Six visual artists have been chosen as finalists to paint a new mural at the Crystal City Metro Plaza, according to a release from the National Landing Business Improvement District (BID). The BID put a call out in May for individual artists or teams of artists to submit their credentials by June 1 so judges could determine if they had the experience and the chops to tackle the project.” [Patch, National Landing BID]

Memories of a Local Cicada Expert — “Ann thought of Allard recently because of one of his favorite subjects: the periodical cicada. She hadn’t realized he was an expert in Brood X. Then she found his 1937 paper in the American Naturalist journal. Ann posted her memories on Facebook’s ‘I grew up in Arlington, VA’ page and was surprised at how many other people from the neighborhood remembered the old scientist.” [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Arlington County has hit a setback in its fight against the opioid epidemic, as a high-stakes legal battle is mired in a squabble over where the case should be tried.

The county is currently suing dozens of businesses, such as CVS, Rite Aid, Walmart, McKesson Corporation and Express Scripts. In its lawsuit, the county says these manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies were key players in the opioid problem.

The County Board is seeking “at least” $150 million plus other damages — punitive damages of $350,000 per defendant.

The suit argues that the epidemic has harmed the Arlington community in myriad ways, ranging from more babies exposed to the drugs and increased health care costs to impacts on everything from courts to schools’ treatment centers and employee benefit plans.

“‘Arlington County has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic,’ with increasing rates of neonatal abstinence syndrome and Hepatitis C since 2011,” notes a court document. “Moreover, the rate of overdose deaths in Arlington County has approximately tripled during the period of 1999 to 2016.”

The suit alleges that businesses caused harm by “misrepresenting the dangers of opioids, by failing in their obligations to report suspicious orders of opioid drugs, by working with their related pharmaceutical benefit manager entities to increase the usage of opioids, by flooding the country (and Arlington County)” with addictive drugs and more, lawyers for the county previously said in a court filing.

In court, the county has accused the defendants of gross negligence, unjust enrichment, conspiracy and more, saying prescription drug manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, pharmacy benefit managers and pharmacies have created this epidemic.

Lawyers for the county said the addictive pain medications — sometimes prescribed for everyday conditions such as knee pain, headaches and dental pain — can act as a gateway drug to heroin and more.

As the suit has worked its way through the legal system since 2019, the county and the defendants have tangled over which court should hear the case, with the county pushing for state court, and at least one defendant arguing for federal court as the venue. Earlier this month the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to the lower federal court for further proceedings.

In appealing a U.S. district court decision about the venue selection, two defendants, Express Scripts Pharmacy Inc. and ESI Mail Pharmacy Service Inc., have argued they were administering a mail order pharmacy as part of the military’s TRICARE health program, thus making it a federal case, the appeals court said.

Those two affiliated defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The county said pharmacy benefit managers, including Express Scripts and others, are gatekeepers to the vast majority of opioid prescriptions in the U.S. and therefore influence prescription drug utilization, suggesting responsibility for monitoring and guarding against misconduct.

Photo by Joe Gratz/Flickr

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Morning Notes

NY Man Arrested for NYE Gunfire — “The Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit is investigating the discharge of a firearm which occurred in the Rosslyn area on the morning of January 1, 2021. At approximately 1:48 a.m., police were dispatched to the report of a person with a gun in the 1500 block of Clarendon Boulevard… officers observed the suspect on the sidewalk holding a firearm as they arrived on scene. The suspect was compliant and taken into custody without incident.” [ACPD]

First Arlington Baby of 2021 — “What a way to ring in the #newyear! Welcome to the world, Mohamed! Our first [Virginia Hospital Center] #newborn of #2021 was born at 1:18 am this morning. Congratulations to the family, and thank you for letting us celebrate the new year with your bundle of joy!” [Twitter]

Parent Files Suit Against APS — “An Arlington Public Schools parent wants his daughter back in class so badly, he plans to file a lawsuit against the district. ‘We started the fundraising today, and we’ve already gotten a lot of great contributions from fellow parents,’ Russell Laird told Fox 5 Wednesday, referring to a GoFundMe campaign launched in an effort to raise $10,000 that would be used to sue Arlington Public Schools.” [Fox 5]

Nat’l Landing Touts Transpo Projects — “National Landing, the renamed neighborhood of Crystal City-Pentagon City-Potomac Yards in Arlington and Alexandria, will become the country’s most connected urban center sometime in the next decade, its business boosters say. Eight major transportation projects are underway in the area, with the aim of turning what is often seen as a busy pass-through into a truly urban neighborhood where residents, office workers and visitors have easy access to local and regional amenities as well as long-distance travel.” [Washington Post]

Local Nonprofit Sees Surge in Aid — “The financial assistance nonprofit Arlington Thrive is helping four times as many people as families are devastated by COVID-19. ‘I was never thinking this would happen in America. I was working hard. I was working three jobs. I lost all three jobs,’ one client, a cook, waiter and ride-share driver, told News4’s Pat Collins.” [NBC 4]

Bikeshare Station Work — “Pardon our dust! In Jan & Feb, some @bikeshare stations in Crystal City, Pentagon City, & Potomac Yard will be replaced, expanded, moved, or removed and may be OFFLINE for a few hours or days.” [Twitter]

Reminder: Bus Changes in Effect — “Riders on the Arlington, Virginia, bus system will once again have to pay fares and enter the bus through the front door starting on Sunday. Arlington County said that both practices were suspended by Arlington Transit (ART) last March, but fares can now be paid by either using the SmarTrip card, SmarTrip app or by exact change at the fare box, while plastic glass barriers have been installed to protect the drivers at the front of the bus.” [WTOP]

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A Metro employee beat a coworker unconscious at the Pentagon station in 2017, after becoming enraged because the victim helped a rider, according to recent court filings about a previously-reported incident.

The day after the March 8, 2017 incident, it was reported by the Washington Post and other local outlets that a station manager assaulted a fare technician, who was “taken to the hospital and evaluated, but was not admitted and did not have visible injuries.” The station manager was arrested, though few other details were released and no motive given.

New information about the attack came to light as a result of a federal lawsuit filed by the victim, as relayed by the Twitter account @unsuckdcmetro, suggesting that the attack was more serious than first reported — and the result of an unusual workplace dispute.

Court filings detail what happened that day between the fare technician, Teshome Workagegnehu, and the station manager, Martin Van Buren.

Plaintiff began working for WMATA as a mechanic in June 2012. On March 8, 2017, he went to the Pentagon train station in Virginia to repair SmartTrip card machines. While he was there, he got into an argument with Martin Van Buren, the on-duty train station manager.

According to plaintiff, Van Buren became upset after plaintiff assisted a customer purchase a SmartTrip card. Van Buren told plaintiff that helping customers was outside of plaintiff’s “responsibility,” and plaintiff disagreed.

Then Van Buren allegedly punched plaintiff in the face, pinned him to the ground, and continued punching him. Plaintiff was taken to a hospital where he stayed overnight. Police arrived at the scene and defendant Van Buren was arrested.

Van Buren was convicted of simple assault, a misdemeanor, in Arlington General District Court in May of that year. He was sentenced to a net of 15 days in jail — 180 days, with 165 suspended — according to court records.

Later, Teshome Workagegnehu alleged that he was improperly denied the ability to sue WMATA. Last week, however, a D.C. federal appeals court affirmed a lower court ruling that he can’t sue because his injuries were work-related and covered by workers compensation.

The appeals court ruling has more details about what happened, saying that Van Buren “swore at and dismissed the customer” who asked for help, before Workagegnehu stepped in.

Teshome Workagegnehu and Martin Van Buren, both WMATA employees, were in a Metro station kiosk in Arlington, Virginia when a customer approached and asked for help with using the SmarTrip vending machine. Van Buren swore at and dismissed the customer. When the customer became flustered, Workagegnehu volunteered to help since he was going to maintain the machines anyway. Van Buren told Workagegnehu not to touch the machines, but Workagegnehu thought he was joking. Workagegnehu helped the customer, performed his maintenance, and then returned to the kiosk. Van Buren told Workagegnehu it was not his responsibility to help customers, and a brief verbal exchange followed as to each person’s job responsibilities.

While the two discussed their job responsibilities, Van Buren suddenly attacked Workagegnehu. Van Buren pinned Workagegnehu to the ground and punched him until he was unconscious. As Workagegnehu awoke, Van Buren said they should stop fighting because they would lose their jobs. But when Workagegnehu stood to leave, Van Buren attacked him again. Several customers and other employees saw the incident. Police arrived and arrested Van Buren, who was later convicted of assault. Workagegnehu sustained severe injuries and required hospitalization.

Workagegnehu was “faced with substantial hospital bills” after the attack, per the court document. He sued after WMATA did not initially approve his workers compensation claim.

The court ordered the workers comp claim paid, but Workagegnehu continued to pursue a suit against WMATA for the assault and the infliction of emotional distress. That was dismissed after the court ruled that the Virginia Workers Compensation Act barred it.

File photo

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Morning Notes

Changes Proposed to Rosslyn Development — “Arlington County Board members on [October] 17 will be asked to ratify relatively minor changes to the approved-in-2019 redevelopment of the Rosslyn Holiday Inn site. The request, if approved, would add residential units and delete hotel units from the project, while keeping the overall density of the project unchanged.” [InsideNova]

Today: Online Discussion With ACPD — “On Wednesday, October 14, 12-1 p.m., CPRO will be joined by members of the Arlington Police Department and County staff for our next Connecting & Collaborating Session: ‘Working Together to Keep Arlington Safe.’ We’ll be discussing safety concerns across the County and the effect on Columbia Pike.” [ARLnow Events, Zoom]

PMI to Settle JBG Parking Lawsuit — “Parking Management Inc. has agreed to pay at least $1.45 million and to take other measures to settle a lawsuit filed against it by an affiliate of JBG Smith Properties in response to the District-based parking operator’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy efforts.” [Washington Business Journal]

Suit Seeks to Extend Va. Voter Registration — “An accidentally severed fiber-optic cable in Virginia effectively shut down most of the state’s online voter registration on its last day Tuesday, prompting voter advocates to file a lawsuit in federal court seeking an extension of the deadline that they argue thousands of voters missed because of the disruption.” [Washington Post]

Northam Targeted By Militia Members — “The group of men accused of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as part an alleged terrorist plot also targeted Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, the Detroit News reported Tuesday morning. An FBI special agent testified during a hearing in federal court that the three defendants had discussed ‘taking out’ a sitting governor, specifically mentioning Whitmer and Northam.” [Virginia Mercury, Press Release]

Nearby: Video of Shooting Released — “Detectives have released video footage related to a Sunday shooting in Bailey’s Crossroads as they continue to investigate. Officers responded to the Build America Plaza in the 3800 block of South George Mason Drive around 1:19 a.m. Sunday after several reports of gunshots. Not long afterward, Arlington County Police located a man with a gunshot wound.” [Patch, WTOP]

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