(CN) – The police may have illegally interfered with a former pedicab driver’s right to drive his in San Diego by confiscating his valid license and allegedly telling him, “Your pedicab career is over,” a federal judge ruled.
According to his complaint, Justin Howard was a pedicab driver in San Diego from 2004 to 2010. A pedicab is a modern-day rickshaw, propelled by a driver on a bicycle.
Howard claimed to actively promote pedicab issues before the City Council and to consider himself a bicycle rights activist. As part of his activism, Howard said he talked to City Council members about arbitrary stops of pedicab drivers by police officers and lobbied against amendments to the pedicab ordinance proposed by Officer Byron Hibshman.
As a result, Hibshman and other officers would often harass him for no reason, scare off his customers, and once stole his pedicab permit for three months in 2008, Howard said.
Howard also claimed that Hibshman’s partner, Officer Scott Thompson, called him “The Angry Black Man,” and that all six black pedicab drivers in San Diego, out of a total of 600, have had problems with the police.
On March 18, 2010, Howard was riding his pedicab when Hibshman allegedly drove up and cited him for not having a valid permit – even though he did, his complaint claimed. Next, he said the cops tried to crash into his pedicab with their patrol cars and he tried to ride away.
Howard stopped in a public place with witnesses nearby, and the police officers allegedly tackled him and handcuffed him face down. He claimed Hibshman told Howard, “Now we got you. Your pedicab career is over. You’re done pedicabbing. You’ll never pedicab here in San Diego again,” and waived Howard’s pedicab permit in the air as a trophy.
In a motion for summary judgment, defendants Hibshman, Senior Traffic Engineer Siavash Pazargadi and the City of San Diego maintained that Howard’s permit was indeed expired but Howard refused to return to the pedicab warehouse, “yelling something to the effect that the law did not apply to him.”
U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia granted Hibshman’s motion in part, dismissing all Howard’s federal claims and upholding only two state claims for violations of the California Civil Code.
“Plaintiff has not come forward with facts to demonstrate a genuine issue of a material fact that there was a conspiracy to violate his procedural due process rights. In his deposition, plaintiff states that Pazargadi is a defendant because he was the one who signed the letter suspending plaintiff’s pedicab permit. Plaintiff testified that he had never met and did not even know who Pazargadi was before he signed the letter,” Battaglia said.
However, the judge found that Howard did have a valid pedicab permit at the time of the March 2010 incident and the police incorrectly applied a new pedicab ordinance retroactively. “Defendants have not provided any legislative documents to show the City Council’s intent to make this section retroactive to permits issues prior to the ordinance’s enactment which expired on a yearly basis. Accordingly, the court concludes that the ordinance is not retroactive. Therefore, plaintiff had a valid permit on the day of the incident on March 18, 2010,” the judge ruled.
Therefore, Howard may sue under California Civil Code 52.1, which “establishes a private right of action for damages and other relief against a person who ‘interferes by threats, intimidation, or coercion,’ or attempts to so interfere, with the exercise or enjoyment of a individual’s constitutional or other legal right,” according to the judgment.
Battaglia also found that Howard may have a claim for false imprisonment if his allegations are true and the police had no probable cause to arrest him on March 18, 2010.