ATLANTA — Former MARTA employee John Harrison says working for MARTA was a job he did with pride.
“I felt so valuable moving all those people around safely on the bus and train,” Harrison said.
But decades later, that pride turned into anguish after MARTA fired him.
“I wasn’t trying to knock the fella off the platform I was just defending myself,” Harrison said.
Leaders at MARTA told Channel 2′s Ashli Lincoln they classify an altercation between Harrison and a passenger as aggravated assault against the passenger.
The incident occurred in 2019 at the Bankhead train station.
“There was no risk of a train coming. This was at the end of the line,” Harrison’s attorney James Howard said.
Harrison said he was acting in self-defense after approaching a man who was yelling and shouting profanity to passengers.
“I just couldn’t believe the next words out of his mouth, well if you don’t call MARTA Police I’ll punch you in the face,” Harrison said.
Harrison was later terminated and then charged with aggravated assault, which is a felony in the state of Georgia.
“If MARTA had just terminated his employment, he would have accepted that,” Howard said.
Howard says the evidence clearly points to self-defense and not aggravated assault.
“We concluded they decided to charge him with a felony so he wouldn’t challenge his termination,” Howard said.
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MARTA said they presented the case to Fulton County’s district attorney’s office because Harrison was in violation of their policy, which prohibits fighting unless it can be shown as an act of self-defense.
In a statement, MARTA said:
“Operators are trained to de-escalate situations. Had Harrison walked away from the patron and returned to the train cab, the incident would have been avoided.
“The Rail Operator rulebook (Rule 2.36) prohibits fighting on MARTA property unless it can be shown that it was an act of self-defense. An investigation by MARTA Police determined that at no time was the patron a threat to Harrison inside the railcar or on the platform. The Fulton County DA’s office charged him with aggravated assault and those charges were eventually dismissed.”
A Fulton County judge dismissed the aggravated assault charge, citing Harrison acted in self-defense.
Harrison said he decided to file a civil suit against MARTA for malice termination for pursuing the felony charge.
Last Friday, a Fulton County jury ordered MARTA to pay Harrison a six-figure judgment.
This was MARTA’s response to the jury’s order:
“While MARTA appreciates the jurors performing their civic duty it disagrees with the verdict and plans to appeal. Mr. Harrison alleged malicious prosecution. As such, he was required by law to show both the presence of malice and the absence of probable cause. In other words, Mr. Harrison was required to show: 1) a reasonably prudent person could not believe he assaulted the passenger and 2) the officer and authority were out to get him. MARTA believes Mr. Harrison failed on both counts and plans to appeal the decision.
“The video evidence by itself showed probable cause. The video clearly shows Harrison leaving his train to go onto the platform to confront the patron. The patron attempted to walk away at least three times during the incident and rather than return to his cab and keep service moving, Harrison pursued him, escalating the situation. The video shows Harrison chase the patron and push him off the platform where he fell five feet down onto the tracks. Had a train been approaching the station, the patron would have been struck. A grand jury indicted Mr. Harrison on the ground of aggravated assault, which is further evidence of probable cause. And trial testimony showed that the involved officers didn’t know Mr. Harrison and had no ill will against him; this shows there was no malice present.
“When all of these facts are taken as a whole, MARTA is confident the verdict will be overturned.”
Channel 2 Action News reported earlier this year MARTA has taken similar action against other employees involved in altercations.
In March of 2022, a Clayton County judge dismissed a felony-aggravated assault charge against former MARTA bus driver, Labarron Morgan.
The Clayton County judge said Morgan acted in self-defense.
Morgan said that while he was dropping passengers off near Jonesboro Road and Forrest Parkway in Clayton County, this passenger onboard wouldn’t stop shouting profanities while listening to music.
“It progressively got louder and louder,” Morgan said.
He said he tried alerting the man, but when the man didn’t stop, Morgan told him he needed to get off the bus.
The passenger walked to the front of the bus and refused to leave. Morgan said he called 911.
He admits to pushing the partition that was dividing them, only after he said the passenger pushed it toward him first.
“I’m going to shoot you bro,” the passenger told Morgan. The passenger eventually exited the bus.
MARTA told Channel 2 Action News that it presented the case to Clayton County, where a felony-aggravated assault charge was later filed against Morgan. He turned himself in and spent three days in jail until he could bond out.
“I don’t want to be in a position where I have to defend myself,” he said.
Channel 2 Action News reached out to MARTA about that incident.
In a statement, the transit agency said that passenger safety is their No. 1 priority and that after reviewing the video, it decided to terminate Morgan.
MARTA also said that drivers are trained on how to properly respond to personal threats, but Morgan maintains he was treated unfairly.
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