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MTA Worker Union Packs Court for Sentencing of Man Who Waved Gun at Driver

A man who pointed a gun at a New York City bus driver and threatened a bus full of passengers in 2019 will spend seven years in state prison, a judge ruled Wednesday. 

In a courtroom full of New York City bus drivers, acting New York County Supreme Court Judge Daniel P. Conviser sentenced Tony Burnett, 31, after a jury convicted him of second degree criminal possession of a weapon on Aug. 25.

“This was an extraordinarily dangerous crime,” Conviser said. “I think you’re suffering from some severe mental health issues [but] that doesn’t excuse your conduct.”

Burnett attempted to board an M11 bus at 86th and Columbus around 8 a.m. on Aug. 8, 2019, but when the bus pulled away without him, Burnett got in a taxi and followed it. At the next block, Burnett exited the taxi and began screaming at the driver, Michael Haynes, 58, pointing a gun at him from outside the bus. There were 45 passengers on board at the time, Assistant District Attorney Rachel Polsner said in court.

“He put me and the people on that bus’s lives in jeopardy,” Haynes said in an interview outside the courtroom. “I thank God every day that he didn’t fire that weapon.”

Burnett’s arraignment and criminal trial came amid a 47% uptick in transit crimes over the past two years, according to data from the New York Police Department. This past June, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation expanding transit workers protected by existing crime legislation.

Burnett’s arraignment was attended by then-New York City Transit Authority president Andy Byford and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Bus President Craig Cipriano, according to transportation union representatives. 

“My operators, our colleagues, the union members, do not come to work to get assaulted, they do not come to work to get threatened, they do not come to work to get spat at,” Byford said at the time, according to the New York Post.

Fourteen members of the union were present at Wednesday’s sentencing.

“An injury to one is an injury to all,” operators division Chair Sean Battaglia said in an interview after the sentencing. “Even though it happened to our brother Michael Haynes, it affects everyone. It affects every bus driver.”

In court, Conviser asked Burnett if he wanted to say anything before his sentence was read. Burnett spoke for about fifteen minutes, wandering through an array of subjects such as his desires to start a YouTube channel and perceived slights against him, before the judge moved forward with the sentencing. He did not address or reference the bus driver or city drivers in the court room.

Polsner noted in her pre-sentencing statement that the jury did not find Burnett’s testimony in the trial to be credible. She also said that Burnett had not “accepted responsibility” or “accepted guilt.”

“He testified untruthfully under oath,” Polsner said. “The jurors sent back a note: ‘What do we do if we don’t find his testimony to be credible?’”

Burnett’s attorney, Susan Calvello, said that her client had been “diagnosed as schizophrenic.”

She asked the court to consider the effects that imprisonment would have on Burnett given his diagnosis.

Polsner asked for a nine year sentence, citing Burnett’s criminal record. She said that he was given a plea for a nonviolent felony in 2015 after stabbing a man twice in the stomach and punching a witness that tried to call 911.

Polsner also told the court that Burnett had been arrested three times at the end of July and beginning of August for petit larceny, attempted robbery and attempted robbery with a firearm. In the last incident, Burnett allegedly told someone that he would “blow their brains out if they would not give him money.”

Burnett was involved in a slashing incident while he was held at Rikers, Polsner said in court. 

(Calvello noted in court that criminal charges have not been filed in that incident.)

In an interview after the sentencing, Haynes spoke about continuing to drive the M11 bus.

“I actually drove the route once or twice when I first got back to work,” Haynes said. “I’m not

going to drive with fear but that thought is on your mind, it’s always there.”

Haynes testified in Burnett’s criminal trial. He spoke of the importance of the seven year

sentence.

“I’m hoping that it’ll change his mind,” Haynes said. “This is a young man wasting his life in

crime. I hope it’ll change his life around.”

Written by

Sammy Sussman is a former University of Michigan student reporter and current Stabile Investigative Fellow at the Columbia Journalism School.