Criminal charges were dismissed this week against a Cleveland student cited by RTA police with fare evasion despite having a free pass.
Elijah Whitt, 14, was cited during the past school year when he was stopped at a Rapid station by an RTA officer who requested to see his pass. Elijah didn’t have the pass with him. It was the second time in about three months that he failed to show his pass as requested.
A letter RTA sent to the teen's family requesting payment of a $25 fine was never received, the student’s mother said. RTA subsequently filed criminal charges against the ninth grader in Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court.
His family vowed to contest the criminal charges, contending RTA’s policy of taking students to juvenile court for forgetting a bus pass is unduly harsh and wrongly thrusts them into the criminal justice system.
“I am happy that the court dismissed the charges against my son,” said Leticia Maldonado. “However, it is unfortunate that we even had to go through this process for something so minor.
“In the future, I would hope that RTA, CMSD and the city of Cleveland would work cohesively to revise the fare evasion policy for students to end the pipeline-to-prison cycle.”
Defense attorney Adam VanHo, who represented Elijah in court, said the case was dismissed Wednesday in juvenile court after the teen admitted he did not have his pass with him. There is no conviction.
VanHo urged RTA to change its policy.
“It’s a colossal waste of taxpayer money, especially for a kid just trying to go to school,” he said.
The RTA passes are provided free to Cleveland Metropolitan School District students every school year. The district spends about $5 million a year buying RTA passes for students to travel to schools throughout the city.
RTA often does not check riders for tickets or passes as they board a train. Instead, RTA police randomly detain passengers for proof of payment as they ride or exit a train.
In the past three years, about 45 students – many of whom were given free passes – were charged with fare evasion for failing to show the pass when requested.
RTA said it would not change its policy, arguing that oftentimes the free passes are misused or shared with non-students.
More than 130 students have been caught sharing their passes in recent years, an RTA spokesperson previously told Channel 3 News.