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Sikh taxi driver says cop started dispute with him

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A Sikh taxi driver who was charged late last month with assaulting a police officer filed a claim with the Civilian Complaint Review Board alleging that the arresting officer started the altercation and knocked his turban to the ground because the taxi driver had refused to pick up a drunken passenger.

Jatinder Singh Sekhon, 52, of Queens Village, said the trouble began around 4 p.m. June 20 when two police officers toting an inebriated man hailed his cab on Lexington Avenue at 36th Street and told him to take the man as a passenger.

As Taxi and Limousine Commission rules allow, Sekhon said he refused to let the intoxicated man into his car.

“The passenger was overly drunk,” he wrote in a letter to the CCRB on June 29. “He could not walk, stand, or even tell us his address. Both officers were holding him.”

One of the officers, Terence Kane, then insisted Sekhon take the man as a passenger, according to the letter.

“I always carry my NYC Taxi Law book, so I refused again, telling Officer Kane that I could show him in the law book that I have the right to refuse an overly drunk passenger,” Sekhon wrote. “He threatened to arrest me.”

Scared, Sekhon said in an interview Monday, he then dialed 911 from his cell phone and told the operator Kane’s name and badge number and asked for help.

Meanwhile, another taxi stopped and the officers put the drunken man in that vehicle, according to the letter sent to the CCRB.

Before the second cab took off, Sekhon said he approached the driver and asked him to write on his trip sheet that the passenger was under the influence of alcohol.

“Officer Kane then pushed me back, handcuffed me, and threw my turban down and unraveled it,” Sekhon wrote in his letter to the CCRB.

The Queens Village taxi driver was charged with obstruction of government administration, resisting arrest, assault, disorderly conduct and harassment, all misdemeanors, according to a complaint filed in Manhattan Criminal Court. He was held for 27 hours in a Manhattan stationhouse jail, Sekhon said.

He was released on his own recognizance and was scheduled to return to court July 18, criminal court papers said.

In the complaint, Kane stated he observed Sekhon’s cab stopped in a driving lane on Lexington Avenue and that the taxi driver would not move the vehicle despite repeated orders over a 10- minute period to do so. 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 complaint makes no mention of a drunken passenger.

Ray Patterson, a CCRB spokesman, said the agency does not comment on complaints that are filed. Sgt. Vincent Gravelli, an NYPD spokesman, said the incident was under investigation.

Sekhon refused to accept blame. “Nothing is my fault. I am a cab driver. I refused to pick up a drunk passenger,” he said. “I didn’t fight with them. They are two officers. I am one man, 52 years old.”

Despite his denial, the TLC suspended his hack license a week after the incident.

Paul Wein, executive director of public affairs for the TLC, said Sekhon was suspended on the basis of the criminal court complaint.

“He was suspended for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct,” he said. “He was not suspended for refusing a drunk passenger because according to TLC law you are allowed to refuse a drunk passenger.”

Sekhon, who has been a member of the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill since he emigrated to the United States in 1981, speculated the officer picked on him because of his appearance. “Maybe it’s discrimination because of my turban,” he said.

A father of four, he received a certificate from TLC commissioner Matthew Daus for volunteering his time and vehicle to transport rescue workers, volunteers, family members of victims and blood donors following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He 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.

Now he said, he is forced to sit at home without any money coming in, waiting for his next court date and wondering why a police officer decided to pull him over.

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

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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