Loose Lips

“Sheer Insanity” as Reporters Arrested at Taxicab Commission Hearing

The folks at the D.C. Taxicab Commission and the U.S. Park Police have got some splainin' to do, as two reporters were arrested today during a DCTC meeting for, you know, reporting.

Pete Tucker, a journalist at TheFightBack.org and a frequent advocate for independent taxi drivers, and Jim Epstein, a producer and journalist for Reason.tv, were arrested by the Park Police, apparently at the behest of members of the DCTC. Tucker and Epstein were at a DCTC public hearing that was for some reason not at its usual location but at the Park Police station at 1901 Anacostia Dr. SE.

Here's Tucker's version of events: He says he was taking pictures of commission members sitting at a dais when a hack inspector (or taxi inspector, if you don't know what hack inspector means) told Tucker he couldn't take pictures at the meeting. Tucker says he tried to continue to take pictures when the hack inspector stood in front of him, blocking his view. So Tucker says he took a picture of the hack inspector.

A bit later, says Tucker, two Park Police officers came in and told Tucker, who was sitting in the front row, that he had to leave with them. Tucker declined, saying he was a journalist at a public meeting and wasn't going to leave. After a back-and-forth with the officers, Tucker says he was handcuffed and taken out of the meeting and to a downstairs holding cell.

His arrest, as you can see from the video above, did not sit well with the cabbies in attendance. "It was sheer insanity," says cabbie Larry Frankel, who is also an prominent cab organizer.

Tucker says he was arrested while a man who was visually impaired was testifying about how hard it was to find a cab in this town that would pick up service dogs.

“You can’t arrest a reporter at a public meeting," Tucker recalls the witness saying.

After his arrest, Tucker says other Park Police officers told him he could go back to the meeting if he agreed not to take any more pictures. “If you agree to not take any pictures, or you just agree to leave, then you can just walk," Tucker says is roughly what one officer told him. Tucker says he again declined, saying that he refused to give up his right to take photos of a public hearing.

He says he was in a cell for about four hours total and could see Epstein in a separate cell, but couldn't talk to him. After being fingerprinted and photographed, Tucker says he was released from Park Police custody. He's been charged with "unlawful entry/remaining" and "disorderly conduct."

Tucker's got court dates set for next month. He says he's already spoken with reps from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Overall, Tucker says he was treated decently by the Park Police and places most of the blame at the feet of taxi officials.

“The hack inspectors and D.C. Taxicab Commission are less than transparent and need a good deal of attention, and I feel they put the Park Police in a problematic situation," says Tucker.

Tucker reported back in May of interim DCTC chairman Dena Reed's aversion to having cameras record public meetings.

"You cannot record the meeting unless the commission allows you to do so, it does not," Reed said back then. When asked to show where the commission's rules say that, Reed responded: "I can't show you anything because it's not written in there."

How wonderful.

On the other side of things, a spokesman for the Park Police did not immediately return a phone call, and the DCTC is referring calls to Mayor Vince Gray's office. A spokeswoman for the mayor says they will issue a statement after receiving an "incident report." LL is sure this is exactly what Gray wanted to be dealing with right now.

Meanwhile, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells has asked Attorney General Irv Nathan to investigate.

UPDATE: Here's a statement from Reed via the press office:

Today, Pete Tucker of Fightback.org was detained by the United States Park Police at the Park Police facility at 1901 Anacostia Drive (which is located in Anacostia Park) for disorderly conduct. He was not arrested or detained at the request of the D.C. Taxicab Commission.

I understand that Mr. Tucker was detained by the Park Police for disorderly conduct (not for filming the meeting). I was still in my Commission meeting as the exchange between Mr. Tucker and the Park Police happened in the hallway. I was not aware that he was arrested until I was leaving; I thought he was simply escorted out. The Commission has no interest in having him arrested, but his conduct outside of the meeting with the U.S. Park Police resulted in his detention. I now understand that a second person was detained, but I have no idea who he is or why he was detained.

Well, that clears it up then.

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