Update: Witness says she saw different set of events; Customer adamant that driver acted inappropriately
Originally published: Jan. 14, 2013, 9:42 a.m.
Updated: Jan. 14, 2013, 12:26 p.m.
This is a developing story. Please see important, developing updates published at the end of this story.
RALEIGH, N.C. — A taxi driver for Green Taxi in North Carolina’s capital city is being accused of hurling an anti-gay slur at customers and attempting to hit one of them with his car during a disagreement during the early morning hours of Sunday. The owner of the cab company has called the incident unacceptable.
Bobby Hilburn, the former executive director of the LGBT Center of Raleigh, said the incident began sometime shortly before midnight on Saturday when he and five friends called Green Taxi for a ride to Legends, a gay night club in downtown Raleigh.
Hilburn had been told the taxi would arrive in 20-30 minutes, so he went to receive some cash at an ATM near his second-floor, storefront residence in Raleigh’s Oakwood neighborhood. While downstairs, the taxi arrived early and Hilburn hustled to get his friends downstairs.
While waiting for two friends to join them, Hilburn said the driver of taxi number 024, whose name is unknown, became rude and began to rush the group. Hilburn said he suggested to the two friends already in the cab to go ahead. One asked Hilburn if it would be better if they waited.
“I’m not gonna wait on you faggots,” Hilburn said the driver responded.
Shocked, his friends exited the cab and the driver immediately pulled away with the passenger door still open, but soon turned around and came back to the group of friends still standing in the parking lot.
Hilburn said one of his friends immediately called Green Taxi to report the behavior, but was told they would have to call back to speak to management on Monday. When the driver pulled back up, he allegedly began yelling at them and saying the group had damaged his car. Hilburn and his friends began to go back upstairs, though Hilburn decided to go back down and get photos of the taxi.
“I told my friends I wanted to go get his car number and information,” Hilburn said. “So I walked down and as I was snapping his picture, he threw his car into reverse, turned toward me, and sped back into the parking lot. I jumped out of the way and actually was had to jump and push off the hood as he was coming toward me.”
One of Hilburn’s friends immediately called police.
Hilburn didn’t know whether police filed a report, but said officers told him that he and his friends could file a complaint with the magistrate at anytime. The cab driver allegedly told police that one of Hilburn’s friends had hit him.
“When the police arrived, he had then changed his story, saying that he had been attacked and hit in the face by one of my friends,” Hilburn said, denying any physical or verbal wrongdoing by him or his friends. “We were advised that we can press charges but that if we did, they would probably have to arrest our friend at the same time because he would say one thing to our other.”
A voice mail left on Sunday to a community liaison officer with the Raleigh Police Department had yet to be returned at the time of publication.
Hilburn said he and his friends haven’t yet decided if they want to press charges. They do intend on reaching out to the cab company and say the late-night incident was concerning.
“I really want the gentleman to understand that it’s not okay to make statements like that that are derogatory and hurtful to people,” Hilburn said. “They are supposed to be providing a service to everybody in the public and its kind of scary to think you have drivers or people out there that are still so hateful toward anybody, not necessarily just gay people.”
Hilburn also said he doesn’t want the driver’s employment to be threatened.
“I don’t want him to lose a job,” he said. “I would like him to go to some type of mediation or therapy where he can be exposed to different cultural ideas and understand that its not okay to treat people that way. As long as he learns learns a lesson of cultural acceptance. I don’t want anyone to be fired, but I do think he should go to some type of class.”
Reached during business hours on Monday morning, Green Taxi owner Harry Jeanniton told qnotes the anti-gay slur was offensive and that Hilburn’s experience with the driver was unacceptable.
“You’re in the business of public relations, you need to learn how to respect people and not make the company look bad as a whole, number one, and, number two, disrespect people,” Jeanniton said. “That’s not the kind of service our taxis render. It’s unacceptable. I’m very sorry for the inconvenience, but it’s not going to go any further.”
Update, Jan. 14, 2013, 10:14 a.m.:
Jeanniton called qnotes back shortly after this story’s publication to say a community member who witnessed the incident described a different series of events. This newspaper previously reported that Jeanniton had said he would terminate the driver’s employment. Jeanniton said he will be taking all sides of the story into account now.
The community member, who did not want to have her name published, also called the newspaper to describe what she saw. She said she saw about seven individuals pushing the driver and cussing at him when she came out onto her porch after hearing a scuffle outside. The driver, she said, was attempting to tell the individuals that he could not fit all seven people in his taxi.
A voice mail was left with Hilburn.
Update, Jan. 14, 2013, 12:26 p.m.:
Reached via telephone early this afternoon, Hilburn reiterated his original story and was adamant that he and his friends did nothing wrong.
“At no point would we have been able to push the driver because he never got out of the car,” Hilburn said.
Hilburn also doubts how clearly any neighbor could have witnessed the series of events. The parking lot is dark and difficult to see from neighbors’ points-of-view, he said.
“[They] very well could have seen my friends come out of the cab,” Hilburn said. “He did drive off suddenly with his door open. I will even give that if someone came out in the middle of that shock at the end and saw the driver drive off they may assume he was leaving on account of something.”
But, Hilburn said he has no reason to lie.
“I can understand how an outsider could have felt [a confrontation was occurring], but please be clear I have no reason to lie,” he said. “I am a well-upstanding person in our community.”
Hilburn also questioned the eye witnesses’ credibility since they are unwilling to publicly disclose their name.
“I think it’s interesting that people don’t want to give their name,” he said. “It think that should immediately discredit their story.”
The identity of the eye witness is known to qnotes and the individual’s home address confirmed. The witness’ comments were published after they were shared independently with the owner of Green Taxi, causing him to retract some of his initial on-the-record comments with this newspaper.
This is a developing story.