Uber Driver assaulted when his passengers refused to wear masks

Image Courtesy of Hartford Business Journal

Image Courtesy of Hartford Business Journal

Grace Mittleman, Staff Writer

One woman has been arrested and another has agreed to turn herself in after they assaulted a San Francisco Uber driver who asked one of them to put on a mask during their ride.

Subhakar Khadka, a 32-year-old Uber driver, had picked up three female passengers Sunday in San Francisco’s Portola neighborhood but ended their ride when one refused to wear a face mask, violating Uber’s policy and California’s statewide mask mandate.  Khadka told one of the passengers that he would have to stop the ride if she didn’t have a mask to put on. He said he offered to bring them to a gas station so the passenger could buy a mask.

But in the time it took to get to the gas station, the passenger threatened him, saying she could call family members to take care of her. Feeling intimidated, he said he asked the passengers to get out of the car. But he said they refused, prompting Khadka to turn on the dashcam in his car.  This allowed him to film the commotion of what was happening in his backseat.

After the passengers refused to leave, he decided to bring them back to their pickup location. While they were on the way, Khadka said they were arguing about the mask, the passengers weren’t wearing seatbelts, and one had opened a car door. So, he said he stopped the car again.  Khadka said one of the passengers took out pepper spray and sprayed it inside his car after he dropped them off.

Another passenger took Khadka’s cellphone out of his hands, but according to police, he was able to get it back.  Several videos that went viral also showed the passengers ripping off the driver’s mask and coughing on him.  Khadka said the situation made him feel vulnerable.  “I could do nothing about it. I could not lay hands on them,” he said. “I could not verbally challenge them.”

“Anti-Asian hate and violence are shocking and heartbreaking—and it must stop. When one community is being attacked, we are all being attacked,” Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s CEO, wrote on Twitter, “Police are not saying the assault was a hate crime.”  Khosrowshahi also thanked the police for their work in dismantling the situation and for standing up to the passengers.

An Uber statement added that all three passengers have been banned from the ride-hailing platform, and Uber has offered support to Khadka. “When one community is being attacked, we are all being attacked,” the statement said.  Lyft has also banned the three passengers from riding with their platform as well.

“The behavior captured on video in this incident showed a callous disregard for the safety and wellbeing of an essential service worker in the midst of a deadly pandemic,” Lt. Tracy McCray, who heads the San Francisco Police Department’s robbery unit, said in a statement regarding the harassment. “We take this conduct very seriously in San Francisco, and we’re committed to ensuring that justice is done in this case.”

Since Sunday, March 7th (the day of the incident), Malaysia King, 24, was arrested in Las Vegas and charged with assault with an acidic chemical, assault and battery, conspiracy, and violation of the health and safety code, according to a statement from the San Francisco Police Department.  Another suspect, 24-year-old Arna Kimiai, had not been arrested as of Friday morning (March 12th), a police spokesman said. Her lawyer told police Thursday that she intended to turn herself in, according to the statement.