DART police accused of harassing homeless gay men at bus stop on Cedar Springs

Posted on 05 Jul 2012 at 7:53pm

DART police insisted that a man sitting on a DART bench put on a shirt, witnesses said.

Some patrons of JR.’s Bar & Grill are accusing DART police of harassing homeless gay men, but merchants and a DART spokesman said the police were probably just answering 911 calls.

On Monday, July 2, three men were seen being taken in handcuffs to a DART police car from the DART bench on Cedar Springs Road at Throckmorton Street. The next night, another man who was sitting shirtless on the bench was approached by two DART officers and told to put a shirt on, according to JR.’s patrons who witnessed the incidents.

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said police would only have been at the location responding to a 911 call. DART police regularly patrol train stations. They are also responsible for bus stops, but normally would be at those stops only if called, Lyons said.

Cedar Springs Merchants Association Executive Director Scott Whittall said he knew nothing about the incidents. But he said merchants and the street’s security guard have called 911 for incidents of panhandling and people bothering patrons of shops, bars and restaurants.

Whittall said the security guard can remove someone from one of the benches that the CSMA placed on the street, but not from DART benches. He said those benches are DART property and under its jurisdiction.

Lyons said DART has a no-loitering policy.

“The facilities are there for transit purposes,” he said.

He said if someone is asleep on a bench, DART police first check to see if the person is OK. But if someone is sitting on a DART bench and a bus passes, DART police ask the person to leave and can arrest them for loitering.

Matthew Austin, who witnessed the incidents, said it’s strange that it happened two nights in a row. He said the incident with the shirtless man involved three police cars. He thought that was overkill for shirtlessness, which he said is certainly legal, and loitering. But the Monday event upset him more. He said one of the three men who were removed Monday is well known on the street and is mentally disabled.

“On Monday, they were doing absolutely nothing [wrong],” Austin said.

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