COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A Central Ohio Transit Authority bus driver has been fired and is facing criminal charges after allegedly assaulting a passenger last month on the east side of Columbus.
According to Franklin County Municipal Court documents, 30-year-old Jaleel Palmer, then a bus driver for COTA, got into an altercation with a 63-year-old man near the intersection of North Champion Avenue and East Long Street in the King-Lincoln Bronzeville neighborhood.
Preceding the assault caught on a bus security camera, another camera inside Palmer’s bus showed the vehicle parking, and Palmer announcing that the bus was at its last stop. The 63-year-old man, who had apparently fallen asleep as a passenger on the bus, had missed his stop. He asked Palmer for directions to East Livingston Avenue, but Palmer did not help him.
The security camera from inside the bus showed that the two men got into a brief argument. It caught audio of the passenger saying “Man, f*** you,” to the driver as he got off the bus and walked away. Palmer then drove the bus away from the last stop.
Police said the 63-year-old man walked westbound to East Long Street. Palmer’s bus had moved to the corner of East Long and North Ohio Avenue, and a surveillance camera on the bus’s front windshield showed the former passenger walk toward the bus again from across the street.
Palmer had gotten off the bus and the two argued again. When the 63-year-old man began to walk away, the security camera then showed Palmer follow him from behind and throw a “haymaker.” Police told NBC4 that the punch broke the passenger’s jaw. He landed face-first on the curb, then rolled around in the street while Palmer kicked him in the head and back.
The camera picked up indiscernible audio from the attack, but Palmer appeared to yell at the man after the assault and took photos with his phone of the man on the ground. Two women who witnessed the incident parked their car and walked over to stop the attack. They helped the man with his belongings before an unknown person in a silver sedan picked him up and drove away. Police said the victim had to have his jaw wired shut at an area hospital.
COTA told NBC4 that it immediately suspended Palmer after the incident and officially terminated him on May 19. COTA released the following statement regarding the attack:
“The incident involving a COTA operator on April 26 is inexcusable and does not represent the hundreds of hardworking and courteous transit operators who provide a valuable service to our communities every day. The operator’s employment has been terminated.”
Palmer was arrested on May 17 and posted bond the next day. He waived his preliminary hearing on Friday and is scheduled to appear in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas for an arraignment hearing on June 9.