Pittsburgh rideshare driver assaulted, sent to telephone reporting unit

Chief Investigator Rick Earle spoke exclusively with a rideshare driver who says he was assaulted by a passenger -- and police never showed up.

Instead, under the Pittsburgh Police Department’s new policy, his call was sent to the telephone reporting unit.

The driver agreed to tell his story as long as we concealed his identity.

It began when he picked up a passenger at a bar in Mount Oliver and began driving him to the Upper Hill District.

“He just started threatening you know all kind of things....wouldn’t get out of the vehicle,” said the driver, who’s been operating in the city for six years.

When the passenger refused to get out of his vehicle, the driver called 911 from Forbes Avenue near Duquesne University.

It was just after midnight.

“Still threatening me, threatening my life, threatening to shoot me...that’s when he started hitting me. He physically assaulted me, hit me with his own hands three to five times,” said the driver, adding that it was very chaotic when he called 911.

The call taker told the driver an officer would be en route soon.

11 Investigates pulled the dispatch tapes for the call.

Dispatcher: “See the complainant at Forbes Avenue and Stevenson….stating that passengers were being rude and that when he ended the trip, they threw water bottles at him.”

The dispatcher radioed that to an officer who replied that he would be headed that way.

But he said the officer never showed up.

“I’m sitting with the doors locked. Is he going to come back?” said the driver.

Before the officer arrived, according to the dispatch tapes, a supervisor intervened and canceled the response, apparently under the police department’s new policy that officers will only respond to in-progress emergencies.

Supervisor: “Are the subjects involved and aggressors gone from that scene?”

Dispatcher: “Last remarks, they did get out of the car and started walking away.”

Supervisor: “Okay, if that’s all that happened you can refer him to the TRU (Telephone Reporting Unit) in the morning.”

According to the driver’s phone records, 911 did call him back and broke the news ten minutes after he made the initial call to 911.

“‘Well since he’s no longer in the car, we’re not going to send an officer over.’ They said, ‘no, we’re going to refer you to the telephone reporting thing so you can make a report on the phone, and then go from there,’” said the driver, who added that he was shocked that police would not be responding in person.

This is all part of the department’s new response policy.

The chief announced back in February a host of operational changes, among them, officers would only respond to in-progress emergencies.

“When there’s an event that doesn’t’s not in progress, we are going to reroute that call to our telephone reporting unit,” said Pittsburgh Police Chief Larry Scirotto, at that news conference in February.

The Allegheny County 911 center defended the handling of the call.

“…We processed the calls correctly to our standards and Pittsburgh Police protocols,” said a spokesperson for the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services.

A spokesperson for Pittsburgh Police said dispatchers were initially told the suspect only threw water bottles at the driver and then left.

The spokesperson added that the driver did provide more details to the telephone unit and said that detectives are now investigating.

The driver said he tried his best to convey the proper information during a rather chaotic incident.

Earle: “Does this make you worried for your safety?”

Driver: “Yes and no. You know with my job, I don’t worry for my safety because I know a situation like this is a one-in-a-million thing.”

The driver said he is thankful that the telephone reporting unit called him shortly after his initial call to 911.

He said he provided them with all the information.

The driver also told Earle that his experience the other night stands in stark contrast to what happened to him about a year ago in the Hill district.

He said he called 911 when a passenger refused to pay and police responded with two vehicles. He said officers tracked down the suspect in a nearby apartment complex.

The driver said this incident was much more serious and he expected an officer to show up.

He said this one incident won’t deter him from driving.

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