But the deepest wounds have been psychological, his family says. When Maxwell-Crawford got on the streetcar that day he was an independent and athletic young man with a girlfriend, downtown apartment, two part-time jobs and plans to pursue a career in law.
Today, he has lost his girlfriend, apartment and both jobs, as well as his capacity to continue his paralegal studies at Humber College. Maxwell-Crawford says he struggles with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress and has moved back in with his mother, Cheryle Maxwell, who has become consumed with the full-time task of helping her son reassemble his life.
Maxwell-Crawford is now suing the TTC and Toronto Police Services Board, alleging he was “assaulted without justification” and illegally detained because of “racial profiling, racial bias and discrimination.” Filed on Wednesday, the lawsuit — which also names the three TTC officers and two unidentified Toronto police officers — is seeking $750,000 in damages.
Maxwell-Crawford also wants to show people who he really is. He doesn’t recognize the hysterical person on the cellphone videos that captured his takedown by the TTC; he also despaired over online comments that assumed he had skipped out on his fare. (He says he paid it.)
He says he is angered and saddened by how he was characterized by the TTC officers as someone who was aggressive, intimidating and possibly even carrying a weapon.
“They saw me as a threat, mainly just because of the fact that I had a hood on and I was Black,” he says. “(But) I’ve worked so hard not to become that, what they think I am.”
There were nine important witnesses to the events that unfolded inside the 512 St. Clair westbound streetcar that day, all of them perfectly impartial: the nine CCTV cameras installed throughout the vehicle, which recorded the entire streetcar ride leading up to confrontation.
But this footage fails to reveal the competing narratives that unfolded in the participants’ heads that day — stories that differ wildly, depending on the storyteller.
Three TTC fare inspectors are named in Maxwell-Crawford’s lawsuit, Patrick Bruce Henry, Mark Anthony Alarcon and Puneet Kumar Mahi. The job of a TTC fare inspector is to check for proof of payment and, if necessary, issue tickets. When it comes to use of force, they are only authorized to apply it when “reasonable” and in “defence of an unprovoked assault,” according to TTC spokesperson Stuart Green.
The Star tried unsuccessfully to reach the three fare inspectors and requested interviews through the TTC, which said it would be “inappropriate” to make its employees available to the media since the lawsuit was only recently served.
But the fare inspectors shared their versions of the event with the TTC’s “unit complaint co-ordinator,” which opened an internal investigation in the wake of the incident. In a July 10 report — which identified the TTC employees only as Respondents 1, 2 and 3 — the investigator concluded that the officers’ use of force on Maxwell-Crawford was “reasonable, justified, consistent with the training provided, and did not constitute an assault.”
According to the report, the three fare inspectors were technically off-duty and commuting to their office at Hillcrest Yard when they embarked the 512 streetcar.
Respondent 1 said Maxwell-Crawford — who was identified in the TTC report as the “customer” — boarded the streetcar and immediately began fixing him with a “dead stare.”
While other transit enforcement officers later told the TTC investigator they knew Maxwell-Crawford from previous interactions, this fare inspector couldn’t recall seeing him before. (Spokesperson Brad Ross told the Star in an email the TTC has no record of previous interactions with Maxwell-Crawford.)
The fare inspector said he spoke to Maxwell-Crawford several times, asking if he was OK and reassuring him he wasn’t checking for proof of payment. But he said Maxwell-Crawford didn’t respond, which, together with the staring, made him “very uncomfortable.”
“Respondent 1 believed the behaviour of the customer was bizarre and not typical of a TTC customer,” the report said.
A second fare inspector, who was standing farther back in the streetcar, said he noticed Maxwell-Crawford staring unblinkingly at his colleague, who was returning his gaze. He said he walked over out of concern for his colleague’s safety; shortly after, Respondent 1 beckoned a third fare inspector to join them, because his “presence could help alleviate the stare.”
When the streetcar stopped at Bathurst St., all three TTC inspectors disembarked behind Maxwell-Crawford, who got off the streetcar and stood to the left of the doors before getting back on.
According to Respondent 1, the doors then began to close but Maxwell-Crawford started “anxiously” pressing the button to reopen them, while his “eyes widened as if in a panic and his jaw clenched.”
He says Maxwell-Crawford then “lunged” towards him with his fists clenched and entered his “personal space.” “Respondent 1 was ‘fearful,’” the TTC report said. “He believed he was about to be punched. Respondent 1 instinctively reacted by giving the customer a quick push using his two hands on the customer’s chest.”
Throughout the report, the TTC inspectors described themselves as “scared” and “intimidated” by Maxwell-Crawford. They characterized his expression as both “neutral” and “blank” as well as “agitated” and bearing a “bothered emotion.” One TTC inspector described Maxwell-Crawford “flaring” his eyebrows and tensing his arms “to project a larger body frame.”
In an interview with the Star, Maxwell-Crawford says he wasn’t staring at anybody on the streetcar. In fact, he says, he barely even noticed the TTC officers.
“I wasn’t looking at them. I took note of them, but I wasn’t staring,” he says. “I had no idea I was in a staring contest.”
Here is how Maxwell-Crawford says he experienced that Sunday streetcar ride. It was the Family Day long weekend and he was travelling to his girlfriend’s house, where their mothers were planning to meet for the first time. CCTV footage shows a young Black man with a slim but athletic build boarding the streetcar at 4:27 p.m., wearing a black winter jacket with the hood up.
Respondent 1 told the TTC investigator that Maxwell-Crawford had headphones around his neck. Maxwell-Crawford insists they were actually under his hood and covering his ears.
His headphones are black “Beats by Dre” wireless headphones with a noise-cancelling feature and Maxwell-Crawford remembers listening to the rapper Kendrick Lamar, with the volume on full blast. “They were very loud and I was just in my own world, thinking to myself,” he says.
The CCTV footage shows Maxwell-Crawford standing just inside the streetcar door, at first leaning on the Presto card reader and then holding onto the pole. The fare inspector identified as Respondent 1 in the TTC report stands directly across from him, though Maxwell-Crawford says he barely registered him. “I was just looking through the window, minding my own business.”
As the streetcar trundled towards Bathurst St., Maxwell-Crawford says he started thinking about food; he wanted to buy something to eat but money was tight, so he was feeling indecisive. He says he didn’t notice the TTC officer looking at him or talking to him.
When the streetcar made its first stop, Maxwell-Crawford stepped off to let other passengers disembark. The CCTV footage shows all three fare inspectors getting off behind him but instead of walking onwards, they stop on the platform and look at Maxwell-Crawford, who also looks in their general direction while reboarding the streetcar.
But once the doors closed, Maxwell-Crawford says he had a change of heart and decided to buy some food after all, thinking he might go to the nearby Harvey’s. The CCTV footage shows him pressing the button to open the door, stepping onto the platform, and getting shoved by one of the fare inspectors.
In the video, Maxwell-Crawford flies backwards into the streetcar before quickly leaping to his feet and taking a wild swing at the TTC inspector who pushed him. He then gets back on the streetcar briefly before jumping back out towards the fare inspectors. “Instinctively, I fought back because I was just like, where is this coming from? I didn’t know who pushed me,” he says. Seconds later, he is taken down by all three fare inspectors.
In his statement of claim, Maxwell-Crawford alleges the fare inspector “took an immediate and targeted interest in (him.)”
“Throughout the entire journey, Mr. Maxwell-Crawford had done nothing to attract the attention or concern of the TTC Fare Inspectors or anyone else,” he alleges in the lawsuit. “He did nothing other than stand passively with his arms by his side with a neutral expression on his face.”
Maxwell-Crawford’s lawyer, Cory Wanless, believes the CCTV footage demonstrates that Maxwell-Crawford was calm and non-threatening the entire time, and did not push the button “anxiously” to get off the streetcar or lunge at the fare inspector prior to being pushed.
The lawsuit alleges the fare inspector’s actions were “motivated by racial stereotypes.” In the TTC report, the fare inspector who pushed Maxwell-Crawford recalled him “possibly” placing his right hand in his pocket. He said he did not think Maxwell-Crawford had a weapon in his pocket, but he was “mindful that there was that possibility.”
A passenger interviewed by the TTC investigator — whose testimony was deemed credible — also described Maxwell-Crawford as having an “angry” stare and placing both hands inside his pockets.
The surveillance video shows Maxwell-Crawford never placed his hands in his pockets, however, and the fare inspector later acknowledged in the report that “his initial perception was incorrect.”
In his statement of claim, Maxwell-Crawford alleges his civil rights were violated by the respondents’ “discriminatory and racially biased actions.” But the TTC’s internal investigator concluded there was “insufficient evidence” to support allegations of racial discrimination and the fare inspector’s push was “not unreasonable.”
“At no time does Respondent 1 use any force that is not in direct response to the action of the customer,” the report concluded. “The behaviour of the customer in this incident is not typical for a TTC customer and was such that it would — and did — cause several people to be concerned for their safety.”
The Toronto Ombudsman is now reviewing the TTC’s investigation into this incident to examine whether it was fair and thorough and if its conclusions were reasonable.
The TTC investigation did find one example of discreditable and unprofessional conduct on the part of the fare inspector who pushed Maxwell-Crawford — that he “smiled at the customer during a tense interaction.” This employee has since resigned for “unrelated reasons,” according to the TTC.
For Maxwell-Crawford, this offered little comfort. He said reading the TTC report felt like a second trauma, serving only to fortify the public narrative that he was a troublemaker who got what he deserved.
“It felt awful, it felt like I was another person,” he says. “There were so many things that were just not correct.”
Maxwell-Crawford was detained for at least 20 minutes before he was finally released from the scene by police. He collected his broken earphones, busted cellphone and missing shoe, then got back onto the 512 streetcar and continued the rest of his journey in a daze.
When he arrived at his girlfriend’s house, he pushed past her and locked himself in the bathroom, where he started to cry. His mother arrived to find her son acting “wobbly” and distraught.
“I started to get very nervous because he’s not a kid that cries for no reason and when I came he was somewhat hysterical,” she says. “I was asking him about the incident, ‘What happened?’ and he couldn’t tell me. ‘Somebody pushed me, mummy. I don’t know what’s going on!’ That’s all he could tell me.”
When she later watched one of the cellphone videos taken by a bystander, she was stunned by what she saw. “My son is screaming and everybody is ignoring him,” she says. “I’ve never seen him like that.
“This is my athletic, strong one,” she continued. “What I saw that day was heartbreaking.”
When the story hit the news, Maxwell-Crawford felt humiliated and the family struggled with how to handle the public attention. He was also diagnosed with a concussion and required treatment for both his physical and psychological injuries.
The most insidious consequence of this experience has been its impact on Maxwell-Crawford’s mental health, his mother says. He has become anxious, prone to anger and often cried himself to sleep in the months after the incident, which also took its toll on his relationship with his girlfriend. Maxwell-Crawford was devastated when they broke up.
But the low point was that day on the Scarlett Rd. bridge. “That time was hell,” she says. “I started wondering if he would come back.”
Maxwell says her son’s broken state made it difficult for him to continue working or attend college, so he quit both and moved back in with her in March. The incident has been hard on the whole family and she says she has become consumed with helping her son get back on his feet.
“One of the phrases he uses often now is, ‘I’m a good man, mom. I’m a good man.’ He goes around saying that,” she says. “He never used to do that before.”
Almost exactly nine months after his encounter with the TTC, Maxwell-Crawford says he is still working on getting back to his former self, but he still thinks about the streetcar incident every day.
He hopes his lawsuit will bring change and awareness over the way young Black men are stereotyped and surveilled in this city. He was just riding the streetcar that day, he says. Then suddenly, his life was irrevocably changed.
With files from Melanie MacDonald
Jennifer Yang is a Toronto-based reporter covering identity and inequality. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar