Student defends woman in Red Line scuffle

By Joel Lanceta

Eric Schmitt, a third-year in the College, had no plans to be a hero last week. So it came as a surprise when he found himself protecting a young woman who had been attacked while traveling on the CTA Red Line southbound between the Jackson and Cermak-Chinatown stations at 10 p.m. on Saturday, October 2.

Schmitt was traveling from Belmont to Hyde Park with Feliks Pleszczynski, a second-year in the College, at around 9:20 p.m., when he became involved in a dispute between an intoxicated man and a woman who may have been his ex-girlfriend.

At the Belmont station, the man, later identified as Kevin M. Jones, ran up to the platform and started yelling at a girl already at the station. He harassed the girl repeatedly, pleading with her to “take him back,” shouting obscenities at her, and attempting to grab her. Although other passengers at the station tried to avoid the situation, when the girl ran behind Schmitt and Pleszczynski, Schmitt blocked Jones from chasing after her. Jones responded by attempting to push Schmitt onto the tracks. Schmitt and Pleszczynski decided to follow Jones, who had pursued the girl onto a southbound train.

“The whole thing was surreal,” Schmitt said. “I don’t know why we got on the same car; I just knew we didn’t want to leave this guy alone with her.”

Inside the car, Jones reportedly continued to harass the girl, who moved from seat to seat to try to avoid him. The girl then sat by Schmitt.

“The guy said he never said anything bad to her,” Schmitt said. “And she turns to me and asks, ‘What did he call me?’ I just repeated what he actually called her; I said, ‘You called her a whore.’ So then he looks at me and says, ‘Don’t look at me,’ and then he punched me, right in the eye.”

Schmitt used his arms to shield more punches from Jones, while Pleszczynski wrestled Jones away to keep him from attacking either Schmitt or the girl. Schmitt eventually helped Pleszczynski restrain Jones for the rest of the trip, until both the girl and Jones ran out onto the Chinatown Red Line stop. There, CTA employees who noticed the situation called the police. Police arrested Jones and charged him with simple battery. He was later released on bail.

An ambulance was called for Schmitt, who not only suffered contusions to the head, arms, and chest, but had to be treated for an onset of Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease, which may have be aggravated by the blows he received from Jones.

For Pleszczynski, the incident disillusioned his view of kinship and kindness in the city. Pleszczynski said that no one on the train attempted to help either of them, including another U of C student Pleszczynski recognized.

“Her negligence was despicable,” Pleszczynski said of the other U of C student. “She didn’t even call the cops. And no one else on the train helped us. They just sat there looking and laughing at us. What kind of people are these? Chicago has no sense of community. Where I come from and the way I was raised, I would have helped him.”

Susan Art, the Dean of Students in the College, said that the University is involved in crimes against their students, even when they occur outside the area patrolled by University Police.

“When a crime happens outside of our neighborhood, we may only hear about it from the students themselves,” Art said. “In these cases, that bypass the dean-on-call system, we also attempt to assist the student—with help from residence hall staff, my office, and the central Dean of Students office.”

Sheila Yarbrough, the associate dean of students for Student Affairs in the University, said that the dean-on-call system is still available to students outside the area.

“The dean on call will provide support in the form of both emergency and non-emergency services,” Yarbrough said. “For example, the dean on call can accompany a student to a police station for viewing the possible offender in a line-up. The dean on call can travel to court with a student. Our deans on call are trained to connect students to services both on and off campus. If the student lives in undergraduate student housing, he or she may notify the housing staff of the incident as soon as possible.”

Yarbrough also mentioned that students can arm themselves with safety information found in Common Sense, the yearly University publication which dispenses practical recommendations for living and traveling in any area of the city.

As for Schmitt, aside from the few cuts and bruises he still has, expresses no regrets for having helped the girl. He quipped that he would probably be too busy with homework to sue Jones.

“It was the decent thing to do,” Schmitt said, “I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I had let this happen […] I read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations over the summer and the one line he said that really struck me was ‘All your actions should be fitting as a man and as a Roman.’ I found that really inspiring and try to live my life that way.”