PARK SLOPE — A cabbie faces a $1,000 fine and a 30-day suspension after yelling, cursing and "swatting" at a former Goldman Sachs managing director who asked for a ride to Park Slope for himself and his pregnant wife, a city administrative law judge ruled recently.
Taxi driver Mohammed Hossen was "verbally abusive" and used "improper physical force" after passenger Matthew DeMonte requested Hossen take the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel from lower Manhattan to Park Slope on a Sunday afternoon in May 2014, Judge Raymond E. Kramer ruled.
DeMonte, who reportedly earned a base salary of $500,000 when he worked at Goldman Sachs and whose LinkedIn profile says he now works as a managing director at RBC Capital Markets, was on his way home from a charity event with his then-pregnant wife when they hopped in Hossen's cab at State and Bridge streets, he testified at the city's Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.
When DeMonte told Hossen that he and his wife were headed to Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street in Park Slope, Hossen grumbled about going to Brooklyn, then resisted when DeMonte requested that the driver take the Battery Tunnel, DeMonte told the judge.
Hossen pointed out that because the cab was facing south, getting to the Battery Tunnel would require making a seven-block loop in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but DeMonte repeated the request.
Hossen then suggested the couple get out of his cab and find another taxi, according to the judge's written account of the testimony.
DeMonte, who told the judge that he's lived in New York about 15 years and takes cabs "almost every day," responded that they weren't going to get out and that Hossen was required to take them to their destination.
He then told Hossen he was going to take video of their conversation, and said he would file a complaint if he refused once more to take them to Park Slope.
"Things escalated" at that point, according to DeMonte's testimony, with Hossen "flailing his hands," hitting the steering wheel, and shouting in a rage, "I know my f---ing rights, you don't have the f---ing right to record me. F--- you."
When DeMonte held up his cell phone to record Hossen's tantrum, Hossen swatted at DeMonte's hand and knocked the phone to the taxi's floor, according to DeMonte's testimony.
The confrontation deteriorated from there. Hossen started arguing with DeMonte's wife and "sort of screaming" at her, which prompted DeMonte to call 911, DeMonte told the judge.
The 911 operator recommended that the couple get out of the cab and call 311. The couple did so and got into another taxi on the other side of the street headed north to the Battery Tunnel.
Hossen had a different account of the incident, testifying that DeMonte embellished his description of the interaction, which lasted only a few minutes.
The cab driver claimed he was happy to have a fare to Brooklyn because he hadn't picked up a passenger in at least half an hour. He added that he is typically scheduled to work a 12-hour shift but "is never able to complete because he has two children."
Hossen has had his hack license since 2000 and has twice had it suspended, but neither suspension was related to customer complaints, according to the judge's decision. Hossen told the judge that he's never had a passenger make a similar complaint against him.
Hossen testified that he never cursed at DeMonte because it's against his religious beliefs to do so, and he said he never swatted at or hit DeMonte's hand. He also contended that it was DeMonte who got angry because DeMonte thought Hossen was refusing to take him to Brooklyn.
But the judge sided with DeMonte.
"[Hossen] is in a customer-service oriented business and even in the face of disagreeable or provocative behavior on the part of a passenger he may not respond in kind and certainly cannot resort to physical self-help," Kramer wrote in his decision.
The judge reasoned that the passenger was calm and focused when he testified, and didn't seem to exaggerate his account.
On the other hand, Kramer wrote, the driver had a financial incentive to "falsely deny any wrongdoing," and his "blanket denials" didn't seem plausible.
Kramer recommended the fine and a 30-day suspension of Hossen's taxi license, but TLC chair Meera Joshi will make the final call on the case, said Hossen's attorney, Richard Weinberg.
Hossen's attorney said he thought the judge's decision was "fair," but noted that the cab ride was probably doomed to fail from the start because DeMonte and his wife got into the taxi on the wrong side of the street to reach the Battery Tunnel.
"That's what screwed everything up," Weinberg said. “From where my client picked him up, there was no way to get to the Battery Tunnel. You had to go in a convoluted loop. If he had performed an illegal U-turn, he could have done it, but my guy refused to do an illegal U-turn."
Joshi could decide to lessen or increase Hossen's penalty, or even revoke his license altogether, Weinberg said. Joshi's review of the matter hasn't been scheduled yet, a TLC spokesman said.
DeMonte declined to comment directly to DNAinfo New York, but said through a TLC spokesman that he was pleased with the outcome, and that he "believed it was his civic responsibility to follow through with the consumer complaint process."
A TLC spokesman — who said the agency was able to take action against Hossen after DeMonte complained to 311 — added that the TLC was “grateful to Mr. DeMonte for taking the time and making the effort to help us hold this driver accountable for his actions. Without passengers like him, it would be far more difficult for the TLC to provide the necessary disincentive to curb irresponsible behavior."