He said they called him racial slurs, attacked him, and kicked his car.
They said his car smelled like weed and that he assaulted them, not the other way around.
Three years later, the ex-Uber driver and the six passengers he picked up outside a Ferndale bar are still going at it, only lots of lawyers are involved.
In a classic he-said-she-said tale unfolding in federal court, ex-Uber driver David Shaw, 38, is suing the city of Ferndale, alleging three police officers wrongfully arrested him the night he picked up six drunk patrons from Rosie O’Grady’s. And he’s suing the passengers, too — five of them women — for emotional distress, alleging he was racially taunted and physically assaulted after ordering them out of his car for their behavior.
Shaw said the passengers — all of them 20-somethings from Macomb County —- called him the n-word, mocked him for being an Uber driver and screamed profanities at him during their ride.
But the passengers allege it was Shaw who was out of line, not them. When he picked them up outside the bar, they said, Shaw’s car smelled of marijuana so they asked him to pull over and let them out, which he did. After that, they allege, words were exchanged and things got heated, with the 6-foot-four, 220-pound Shaw allegedly hitting one woman in the head and shoving another.
Some of the ruckus was captured on cell phone video, which was taken by one of the passengers and includes cursing, screaming, laughing and the use of the n-word twice, though it’s not clear who said it.
When the police showed up, records show, one woman was crouched over her sister, who was “crying loudly and holding her head.”
Shaw told the police: “These five people attacked me. I tried to defending myself. They were drunk and irate.”
The night ended with Shaw in handcuffs.
Arrest followed by a lawsuit
Shaw’s lawsuit claims that police ignored him at the scene and arrested him without taking his written statement, but instead hauled him off to jail on the words of only the passengers. Moreover, he argues, he was charged with crimes that he was ultimately cleared of. Months after the incident, a jury acquitted him of assault and battery. A possession of marijuana charge also was dropped. Police found 9.3 grams of marijuana in the locked glove box of his car, but the charge was dropped because he has a valid medical marijuana card for himself, and as a caregiver.
Shaw, meanwhile, lost his job. Uber fired him after the incident and reached a confidential settlement with two of the passengers, according to attorneys involved in the case. In a statement, Uber points out that their drivers are “independent contractors,” and that Shaw’s access was removed from the “Uber app in 2016 upon learning of this report.”
Shaw’s lawyer, Detroit attorney Pamela Sossi, said her client’s life has been ruined since the Ferndale incident. The 38-year-old father who was once a team lead supervisor with Chrysler and worked out of the Warren truck assembly plant for eight years lost his job and his marriage, she said, and is still struggling to find work.
Sossi believes the case is all about race. She said the passengers mistreated Shaw because of the color of his skin and that the police gave the passengers preferential treatment because they are white.
“He was terrorized. The actions of the individuals were so extreme. His property was damaged, yet he was the one who was prosecuted?” Sossi said. “It was kind of a mob mentality … My client was literally begging (police), ‘Listen to me’ … but his information was not put into the police reports.”
Defense attorneys disagree, calling Shaw the aggressor who could have and should have driven away after dropping the passengers off outside the Magic Bag, but didn’t. Instead, they said, he started the physical altercation when he got out of his car and struck the cell phone out of a passenger’s hand, and then allegedly hit another woman in the head.
“It’s flip-flipped,” attorney Bryan Cermak said of the lawsuit’s allegation, calling Shaw the instigator, not the passengers.
“The man was reeking of marijuana. They said, ‘let us out,’ ” said Cermak, whose client videotaped part of the incident on her cellphone.
“He struck the phone out of her hand,” said Cermak, adding Shaw also struck his client in the process.
“We vigorously disagree with the allegations in the complaint and discovery will show that the officers acted appropriately,” attorney T. Joseph Seward, who is representing the city of Ferndale and three accused officers, told the Free Press.
Attorney John Hermann, who is representing three female passengers, including one who was allegedly struck in the head by Shaw, agreed. He said the video supports what the passengers allege — that Shaw assaulted them. And just because he was acquitted of misdemeanor assault charges doesn’t mean that the passengers aren’t telling the truth, he said.
“This was an unfortunate situation,” Hermann said. “There was an escalation. Words were exchanged and were shouted. They’re not denying that.”
But it was Shaw who started the altercation, Hermann maintains.
“He claims that they jumped him,” Hermann said. “But the video is pretty clear.”
Details found in documents, interviews
Here, according to court documents, police records, interviews with lawyers and the videotape, is what happened between six friends who went out to celebrate a birthday, and the Uber driver who picked them up at the end of the night.
On Jan. 24, 2016, while working as an Uber driver, Shaw got a request from a woman to be picked up at Rosie O’Grady’s in Ferndale. It was just after 2 a.m. The customer had gone to the bar to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and the group needed a driver.
When Shaw arrived at the bar, he and the rider got off on the wrong foot. He had been shooed away by the police because he was blocking a traffic lane. But his customer was on the phone with him and asking why he was driving away, allegedly yelling “get your ass back here.”
Shaw explained over the phone that he couldn’t be in the no-standing zone, so the woman and two of her friends walked to where he was, climbed in and told him to wait for some other friends. Three more showed up and jumped into the back of the car.
This is where the version of events starts to differ.
Shaw said that as he drove the passengers to their desired location, they began screaming and yelling racial profanities at him, calling him the n-word and a “black son of a b—-.” They were all “highly intoxicated,” he said, and mocked him for being an Uber driver.
As a result of their “belligerent” behavior, Shaw said that he pulled over on Woodward Avenue, in front of the Magic Bag, and ordered them out.
But the passengers tell it a little differently. They said that when they got into the car, they were “struck by the strong odor of marijuana,” got uncomfortable and decided to seek another method of travel. Words were exchanged with the Uber driver, they said, and he pulled over to let them out of the vehicle in front of the Magic Bag.
This is when the situation escalated.
According to Shaw, after exiting his car, the passengers started banging and kicking on the back of his car, damaging it. Angry, Shaw got out of his car to assess the damage when, he alleges, one of the women punched him in the face. Her sister and another woman jumped in and started to assault him. So did two others.
So to defend himself, Shaw alleges, he pushed one of the passengers off of him, which can be seen in the video.
But the passengers tell it differently. Here’s their version of events:
As the six passengers got out of the Uber outside the Magic Bag, they “slapped the vehicle to inform the driver that he was clear to leave,” defense lawyers wrote in court records. But instead of driving away, Shaw “immediately leapt from his vehicle and confronted” the passengers.
According to police reports, one of the women passengers had slammed the door hard, and Shaw was upset. He got out of his car and a yelling match followed, with Shaw eventually striking the cell phone out of the hand of the woman who was taping the incident.
“This appears to be the beginning of any physical altercation,” police wrote in the initial report. “After that, the video screen goes dark but continues to record.”
This, police said, is when Shaw apparently assaulted the woman. The video also captures another woman lunging at Shaw, but him pushing her away.
At 2:13 a.m., police were dispatched to the Magic Bag.
Here is what Shaw told police.
“Shaw agreed that he was not getting along with his passengers and let them out of the cab. As one of the females exited she slammed the door. Shaw also suspected that someone had kicked his car. He exited the car in order to ‘defend’ himself. At this point, Shaw was alone inside the vehicle and all of the passengers were out on the curb. When he felt that his car was kicked, he exited his car and engaged the others.”
The report continued:
“Shaw claimed a scuffle occurred when he was attempting to defend his car,” police wrote, adding Shaw told them he was struck by a woman and he pushed her away.
The initial case reported noted that police obtained written statements from all six passengers. There was no mention of a written statement taken from Shaw.