MTA station agent recounts assault on subway platform as union blasts ‘new form of terrorism’ against transit workers

Noreen Mallory suffered a broken eye socket after being assaulted on the job as a subway station agent.
Photo by Ben Brachfeld

An MTA station agent recounted on Tuesday the agonizing moments when she was assaulted last week while simply doing her job, the victim of what her union leader described as a “new form of terrorism against public servants.”

Noreen Mallory, 58, was making the rounds at the Wall Street stop on the 4/5 line last Tuesday morning when she peered underneath a bench and saw what appeared to be a blanket, only to soon discover that there was a man underneath it, she told reporters on Feb. 20 at Transport Workers Union Local 100’s union hall in Downtown Brooklyn.

“I was terrified of this guy from the moment he revealed himself,” Mallory said. “He was angry, and I feared him from the moment he presented himself.”

The man started mumbling and waving his finger, and when he didn’t respond to her asking if he was okay, she started walking away but the man followed her down the platform, yelling at her as she walked backwards while a 4 train entered the station. He ultimately punched her several times, but the attack was thwarted from getting worse as several straphangers getting off the train, as well as the train conductor, came to her aid and restrained the man. One of the good samaritans also was punched in the face during the ordeal.

Police shortly thereafter cuffed the alleged perpetrator, Abdellahi Mohammad, and charged him with two counts of second-degree assault. The 35-year-old South Africa native is being held on Rikers Island on either $20,000 bail or $50,000 bond, according to the Department of Correction.

Mallory sustained a broken eye socket and will be off the job for some time. She said she had never faced physical assault before in her nearly 9 years on the job as a station agent, but noted she has felt more scared on duty since she and 2,200 other station agents were ordered to leave the token booths and take on a transformed, more customer-facing role at fare arrays and on platforms.

“Safety is paramount. I cannot tell you how much of an issue this is amongst station agents,” said Mallory. “And all of us who work here, it’s an issue, we’re concerned about our safety when we go out on the platforms.”

A rising trend

TWU Local 100 President Richard Davis
TWU Local 100 president Richard Davis.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Assaults on transit workers have become more common in recent years, rising from 168 in 2008 to 492 in 2022 across the nation, according to the Urban Institute. The majority of assaults take place in New York, which has by far the nation’s largest transit system: assaults on New York City Transit workers increased from 122 in 2008 to 237 in 2022.

On Monday night, a subway operator was hospitalized after someone chucked a tennis ball at his face, union officials said.

“We feel this is a new form of terrorism against public servants,” said Richard Davis, Local 100’s president.

Assaulting a transit worker is a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. In rare cases, the MTA has pushed to completely ban offenders from using mass transit at all. On Tuesday, MTA subways chief Demetrius Crichlow opined that the transit agency has prioritized safety with its “Cops, Cameras, Care” initiative, noting “cameras up, crime comes down.”

“I’ll tell you first and foremost, I care about my workers. I care that my workers come into work one way and go home in the same way that they came to work,” said Crichlow. “So I want to make the environment as good as possible.”

Still, workers say they feel overlooked by management and government in terms of protecting their safety.

“Ask yourself, if I were a customer who had approached that same bench and aroused this person, and he got up with that same kind of anger and he did something to somebody who paid their $2.90, what would be the reaction then,” asked Mallory.

The same feeling is not extended to the general public, especially the good samaritans who jumped into action to help Mallory. TWU brass asked that those who intervened identify themselves publicly so they can be thanked and honored by the union.

“Fortunately for us, the citizens of New York stepped up to protect our station agent,” said Davis. “I hope this can be the new norm of society.”