A Los Angeles woman says an Uber driver attacked her this summer and stole her phone, and the ride-sharing company fought her and the NYPD's efforts to bring him to justice.
Abbey Thomas, a senior executive at an advertising technology company, was in New York on business in late July when she went to meet a client for a few drinks at the Gramercy Park Hotel. She was staying at another hotel 10 blocks away, and at around 2 a.m., pulled up her Uber app and requested a ride.
When her driver Hassan pulled up and she hopped into his sedan, it immediately became apparent that something was wrong, she said.
"He did not want to take me for whatever reason," she said. "I was very taken aback. I’ve taken a million Ubers."
She recalled Hassan saying, "'I'm canceling the ride, I'm canceling the ride! Get out! Get Out!' He started using a lot of profanities and getting very aggressive."
Alarmed, Thomas pulled out her phone.
"I instinctively started Snapchatting, just using the microphone to record the guy's verbal rant, because it was so outlandish," she said.
Hassan allegedly grabbed the phone out of her hand, and Thomas says that's when she started screaming.
"Photos of my daughter, all these memories are on my phone," she said. "He comes around, throws the door open, and grabs my arm. I have bruises up and down my arm."
Thomas said she started kicking and screaming as passersby started yelling for Hassan to stop. He did, but what he allegedly did next was far worse.
He runs back around to the driver’s side of the car, and I realize this guy is literally about to drive away. He put the car into gear with me one foot inside of the car, one foot outside of the car. I reached up and grabbed the top of the door frame. He's got my purse, and he’s driving away. I remember taking my left heel and digging it into the undercarriage of the seat to wedge myself up. I'm wearing this pink jumpsuit being driven halfway outside of an Uber on Lexington.
There are three witnesses screaming for him to stop. Thankfully there was a red light at 21st and Lexington. He slowed down enough for me to let go and Superman out of his car. He did not stop.
Abul Hassan (TLC)
Having come to a stop on the pavement, Thomas collected herself. She said her jumpsuit "was all road rash." Her knee was battered. She hit the back of her head and was bleeding from the wound. Bystanders called an ambulance.
"I didn't call anybody, because he stole my phone," Thomas recalled. After a night in Bellevue Hospital, she was released. She had not suffered a concussion or broken any bones.
Upon returning to her hotel, Thomas says she immediately logged onto her laptop and opened a complaint at 9 a.m. That day marked the beginning of a what she describes as the torturous process of trying to get Uber's help in tracking down Hassan. She didn't get a response until 11:30 p.m. she said.
"This is a tech company, right? You're in the business of immediate gratification and responsiveness," she said, "and you take 15 hours to respond to an incident report?"
That response, from a customer service representative named Mariah, was an email that included this paragraph:
While I cannot tell you exactly what will happen to this partner driver, I can definitely let you know that we have taken immediate action on this driver. We will review the driver's account and decide how best to proceed. Your account shouldn't be matched with this driver again in the future.
"That's reassuring," Thomas recalled thinking. "Thanks a lot, Uber."
Uber shared Hassan's insurance information, but not his full name or Taxi and Limousine Commission license number, even when Thomas passed along a detective's information, she said. Uber's policy is to "typically" not give out "basic information" without a subpoena, which Thomas blames for delaying Hassan's arrest until September 7th, when he surrendered more than a month after the alleged attack. Without going into detail, Thomas suggested she had the insurance company, not Uber, to thank for tracking down the rogue hack.
Hassan was given a desk appearance ticket for leaving the scene of a crash that resulted in injury and released.
Thomas is now pursuing a complaint with the TLC, and suing Hassan and Uber in Manhattan Supreme Court. Thomas's lawyers, who work for Gotham Government Relations, a consulting and PR firm with unnamed yellow-taxi industry figures for clients, accuses Uber of "repeatedly [refusing] to cooperate with police" and "[permitting] Hassan to continue working with no repercussions whatsoever."
The lawsuit claims that Uber should have foreseen that its fare structure would lead drivers like Hassan to deny service to passengers making short trips, like Thomas, and react violently. The lawsuit also claims that Uber fails to adequately screen and train its drivers (though Uber drivers must get a TLC license and pass a TLC background check).
Gotham Government Relations, the consulting firm, is arguing in the press that requiring the Taxicab Passenger Enhancements Project tracking system that yellow cabs have in Uber cars would solve the problem posed in this incident. If that happened, lawyer Brad Gerstman told NBC4, "They could just circle back to TLC. 'Who is the driver? Where's the location? What other cars were in the area at the time?' They know every single thing when it comes to the yellow cab, but if it's an Uber driver, they know absolutely zero."
Thomas said that she hopes her pursuit of accountability in this case will help make the city safer.
"I'd like to think that a guy with an anger problem isn’t driving around the women of New York City at 2 a.m.," she said.
Hassan's TLC license has been suspended pending the outcome of the criminal investigation, according to a TLC spokesman. The spokesman stressed, as he always does in these situations, that the TLC is the only agency that can suspend a driver's hack license, so passengers who have had bad experiences with ride-share app, car service, or other cab drivers should use 311 to file a formal TLC complaint, rather than just complaining to the company.
"If you just complain to the app or the base the most they can do is deactivate the driver but he or she is able to join another app and get another trip," TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi said in a statement.
Hassan could not be reached. Uber declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.