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Sikh cabbie accepts plea to get license reinstated

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Jatinder Singh Sekhon, the Sikh taxi driver who claimed his turban was knocked to the ground during an altercation with a police officer on a Manhattan street last month, pleaded guilty to obstructing traffic in Manhattan Criminal Court last Thursday.

Sekhon, 52, of Queens Village, had been charged with five misdemeanors, but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of obstructing traffic, which is not a criminal act. He was sentenced to eight hours of community service and his record will be cleared in one year if he has no other problems with the law, said Sherry Hunter, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

But most importantly for Sekhon, the plea paved the way for him to return to driving his taxi, which he had done uninterrupted for 18 years before Police Officer Terence Kane pulled him over on Lexington Avenue June 20 and demanded he take a drunken man as a passenger.

When Sekhon refused, as permitted under Taxi and Limousine Commission law, Kane pushed him, handcuffed him and threw his turban to the ground, according to a June 29 letter Sekhon sent to the Civilian Complaint Review Board. He then spent 27 hours in a Manhattan station house jail.

The TLC suspended his hack license after the incident because of the criminal charges brought by the police which included obstruction of government administration, resisting arrest, assault, disorderly conduct and harassment.

But Sekhon insisted he did nothing wrong during the June 20 incident and said he entered the guilty plea because it was the only way he could get his taxi back on the road to provide for his family.

“If I didn’t plead guilty, then the next hearing would be in one month. I sit at home with no work. My taxi stands still,” he said in an interview shortly after the court hearing last Thursday. “What was I supposed to do?”

Sekhon still is waiting to hear back from the CCRB on a complaint he filed against Kane. Ray Patterson, a CCRB spokesman, said the agency does not comment on complaints that are filed. Carmen Melendez, an NYPD spokeswoman said, “we can’t comment on an active investigat­ion.”

In the criminal complaint, Kane said he observed Sekhon’s cab stopped in a driving lane on Lexington Avenue and the taxi driver would not move the vehicle despite repeated orders to do so over a 10-minute period. At one point, Sekhon pushed the officer, the complaint said.

Kane then tried to arrest Sekhon but was struck with a closed fist and scratched on the arms, according to the complaint. The document makes no mention of a drunken passenger.

The taxi driver’s lawyer, John Hansen, said the plea for obstructing traffic “doesn’t in any way affect the allegations against the officer.”

Sekhon said he has never been arrested before and has never in more than 18 years on the job received a violation for operating his taxi. Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks he received a certificate of appreciation from the TLC for transporting family members of victims and rescue workers.

A member of the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill since he immigrated to the United States in 1981, Sekhon said the incident has left him unsettled.

“I’m praying but I’m not able to obtain the peace of mind like before,” he said. “I’m in touch with God, but I don’t have a happy heart. When I work and drive with the people, I will feel better.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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