Ear Hustle

Homeless Boston Couple Beats City Worker Because He Was African American

Robert Snyder  Shayla Witt

A homeless couple accused of attacking an MBTA employee in the Downtown Crossing Orange Line station — using racial epithets as they punched him in the face and ripped out his hair — will be held without bail on probation violations.

Robert G. Snyder, 50, and Shayla M. Witts, 28, shared a brief kiss in a Boston Municipal Courtroom on Monday before a prosecutor described the allegations against them: sucker-punching a T inspector who was escorting them out of the station at closing time, then beating him while hurling racial slurs. They each face charges of assault, battery with racial intimidation, and disorderly conduct.

Both Snyder and Witts are homeless and have long criminal histories, according to court records. Snyder has been convicted of assault 12 times, Assistant District Attorney Brett Walker said, among several other lesser convictions and guilty pleas in recent years.

Witts’s right eye was badly bruised and swollen nearly shut. According to her lawyer, she has a nonviolent criminal history, a pending prostitution charge, and an 8-year-old child with autism.

Presiding over Monday’s hearing, Judge Mark Summerville asked how Witts was injured. Tracy Dudevoir, a public defender representing Witts at the bail hearing, said only that the injuries occurred Saturday night during the fracas. Outside the courtroom, Dudevoir was noncommittal about how the injuries were sustained.

According to court records, the MBTA employee was working at the southbound platform at Downtown Crossing around 3:30 a.m. Sunday and was closing the station when he began escorting Snyder and Witts out.

Snyder allegedly sucker-punched the employee — breaking his nose — then grabbed him in a bear hug, according to an affidavit from an MBTA patrol supervisor. While the employee was unable to defend himself, Witts allegedly began punching him too, and also began pulling out his hair, according to the affidavit.

When police arrived, there was a blood trail about 30 feet long strewn with hair extensions ripped from the victim’s head, according to court records.

“I punched him a few times,’’ Snyder allegedly told police. Snyder had blood stains on his shirt, left shoulder, and left forearm, police said.

Witts told police, in racially charged language, that the incident began when another T employee told them to leave the station as it was closing at the end of the Night Owl service. “She stated Snyder struck the employee in retaliation,’’ police wrote.

Snyder and Witts allegedly struggled to avoid arrest, twisting their bodies and banging their heads off of a plate glass window, according to court records.

While Witts writhed, Snyder bolted, court records say. He was found two hours later, wandering the Massachusetts General Hospital parking garage, still handcuffed.

Snyder was demonstrative during the hearing. A thickly built man in a black T-shirt, Snyder shrugged and nodded as Walker read his claim that the T employee had thrown him down a flight of stairs. He rolled his eyes and shook his head as Walker read aloud the racial epithets he is alleged to have uttered.

Snyder was a roofer until 2006, public defender Rachael Liebert said, when a workplace injury sent his life off track. The years since show more than a dozen separate incidents, including another run-in with a public employee. According to court records, Snyder pleaded guilty in a case in which he shoved a Boston Housing Authority police officer, then claimed to have a bomb in his pocket when police searched him.

On police reports, Snyder listed the Boston Housing Authority’s address and a local homeless shelter as his places of residence. A spokeswoman at Pine Street Inn said he had not stayed there in recent months.

Though both suspects were granted bail on Monday’s charges — $10,000 cash for Snyder, $5,000 for Witts — they will not be released because the charges represent apparent probation violations. They are due back in court Dec. 15.

Source: Boston Globe

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