Following passenger attacks, SF District Attorney asks the city to crack down on ridesharing

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on June 4, 2014

From The News Desk

Bad news for Uber tends to come in waves. First there was the weird pseudo-kidnapping case involving an Uber driver in Southern California who took his drunk unconscious passenger to a motel. Now, the San Francisco D.A. has charged a different Uber driver with battery of a transit passenger after the driver allegedly assaulted his passenger in November.

Pando reported on the assault case last year, and it prompted our investigation into Uber’s background check practices, which revealed that they were shitty. In the months since, Uber announced it was expanding its background check procedures to include county level searches, but it still refused to do the more expensive and far more official Live Scan checks that are required for many taxi companies.

The latest spate of incidents may be the controversy that forces the company to do better. At least, it has motivated the San Francisco D.A. to start applying political pressure to the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the ridesharing industry. ““We recognize that these companies provide a valuable service. However, we need to ensure that consumers and the public are protected. That is why my office has been in communication with the California Public Utilities Commission, to express our concerns about huge holes in the current regulatory scheme, particularly around hiring practices and insurance requirements for drivers,” D.A. spokesperson Alex Bastian told Pando. 

The District Attorney has been keeping an eye on Uber since November, when driver Daveea Whitmire allegedly assaulted his passenger, James Alva. Alva took the case to the D.A., and the office discovered that Whitmire had a record, having served time in prison for selling marijuana and cocaine, and currently serving probation for another assault. “He’s on probation for battery, stemming from October 31 2012. On the day of the Giants celebration parade at 3 pm he engaged in a confrontation with an employee in a liquor store. He put his hands on an employee and kicked the door,” Bastian says.

The D.A. held off on filing assault charges for Alva’s case since he hadn’t sustained any injuries. But then in March 2014, a few months later, Whitmire allegedly attacked another stranger on Haight Street. “The victim was verbally accosted by the defendant and the defendant grabbed her ponytail and slammed her to the ground,” Bastian says. With that assault charge up again, the D.A. decided to pursue the Alva case as well, under “Battery of a transit passenger,” which carries longer sentences than just plain battery.

Bastian says the SF D.A.’s office believes it’s the first to charge a ridesharing driver with battery of a transit passenger. “Because we’re in SF we are at the cutting edge of a lot of these issues. There are systemic things we can do that can benefit the community. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of a cure,” Bastian says.