Commissioner Hardesty: Safety concern prompted Lyft ride 911 call
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who heads Portland's 911 system, found herself in a distinctly uncomfortable situation on Nov. 1: calling 911 on her Lyft driver, even as he threatened to call 911 on her.
Hardesty has pushed to cut the police budget noting that many 911 calls are unnecessary, and police response often not needed.
Her 911 call, she told the Portland Tribune, shows how sometimes callers don't have a choice — especially when they are a Black woman in Ridgefield, Washington, stuck next to a closing-down gas station next to the highway late at night.
"I knew that having him call the police (on Hardesty) would put me in danger," Hardesty said. "And so that's why I proactively called 911."
The incident was first reported by The Oregonian on Nov. 10 after records were released to reporters the day before. Interviews by the Tribune with both participants show how the event transpired.
That Sunday night Hardesty called for a Lyft ride home from the ilani casino resort, only to get into a disagreement with her driver, Richmond "Scott" Frost.
His desire to keep his window open to address COVID-19 concerns led to the friction. But it started even before that.
Hardesty said that as soon as she got in the car, Frost complained that she wasn't at the usual exit for pick-up. "I always get picked up at this door," she said she responded, telling the Tribune, "I've had some interesting drivers, but never one who was so blatantly rude from the beginning."
Frost said he also sensed tension from the start, and said he didn't know if she had had a bad day gambling, or what. "She just was not a happy camper from the minute I logged into being on location, and it just went south."
Then the dispute came over the windows, which Frost, who is 63, keeps open on the driver side and the passenger side in back.
Frost says he kept the window open just wide enough to fit a pencil, and he was following Lyft recommendations. He said the car was still quite warm, and he'd never had a passenger complain about the windows before. He said it went on for about six minutes before he decided she'd be happier with a different driver.
He said he's been strict about denying or terminating rides over safety. "Through the course of the pandemic, I've turned down hundreds of rides (and) possibly thousands of dollars of income simply because people had no mask and refuse to wear one .. I'm willing to do what I feel is the best thing for my safety, and for your safety."
The call, he added, "was so unnecessary ... To argue and belittle and to treat me the way I felt she treated me was completely unnecessary ... I'm not out there to be abused."
Hardesty, for her part, said Frost started "yelling" at her, did not discuss COVID-19, claimed it was company policy to keep the windows open, and was keeping the window open far wider than Frost depicted. She said it was cold, and she didn't ask him to close it fully.
"I wouldn't be asking him to put the window up a bit, knowing he's about to get on the freeway, if it was all warm and toasty," she said.
Frost pulled over at a Chevron station next to Interstate 5, cancelled the call and asked her to get out. She refused, saying he needed to get her a ride first.
According to Frost, the Chevron is well-lit and he felt Hardesty was safe. He wasn't allowed to call Lyft to get her a ride, and said he told her that.
Hardesty, for her part, told the Tribune that the Chevron station was already turning off its lights. An employee confirmed that it closes at 10pm on Sundays. At that point she was faced with having to stand outside a closed-down Chevron next to Interstate 5, at 10p.m.
"I didn't know how long I'd have to wait for another ride," she said. "There was no way I was going to get out on the side of the road, in the dark, because some driver has an attitude, and decided I should just get out and just whatever happens, happens."
When he threatened to call 911 if she didn't get out, she called it herself. Police dispatched an officer at 9:52p.m. Hardesty told the Tribune that being a Black woman, making the call herself was the best way to ensure her safety as local police responded to an unknown situation.
"I am very aware of how unsafe it is for a single woman to be traveling anywhere, especially in this very racially tense time," she said. "I'm very thoughtful about how I travel, where I go, what time I go, because I'm always aware that my safety is in jeopardy. And even more so since this Trump era has been around ... People recognize me everywhere. And so I just was not going to take that chance."
"I don't call 911 lightly, but I certainly am not going to do anything that would put my personal safety at risk," she added. "It's a lot harder when you are Black or brown in America to make that decision ... But I ultimately had very limited options."
Frost played drums for Curtis Salgado as well as in other bands around Portland — new wave, blues, jazz, Brazilian samba. He's played in mixed-race bands and is father to a biracial son. A longtime organic farmer and Oregon Tilth board member, he said he was also active in the Portland Farmer's Market founding. In 1998, The Oregonian described him as the first Oregon farmer to give their workers a contract. He worked with Ecotrust and the farmworkers union PCUN to pioneer a special produce label to promote progressive farming practices.
He used to go to anti-war protests w/ his grandmother, and said he probably has some similar views to Hardesty.
"I come from the school of Gandhi and King and Congressman (John) Lewis," he said. People who deny that George Floyd's killing was about racism, he added, are "burying their heads in the sand."
Told this, Hardesty said, "Maybe he was just having a bad night that night. Sounds like a decent guy that I would have happy hour with. But not that night."
After getting her new ride at 10:14p.m., Hardesty immediately submitted a complaint to Lyft, according to a copy shared by her office. It read:
"I requested a ride, the driver came to the wrong pick up location, He then blamed me. I asked him to roll the window up on my side and he started to yell, 'I can't because the regulations require each window to be cracked (which isn't true). He then pulls over in the dark on the side of a gas station and told me he was cancelling the ride. I had no interest in being left on the side of the road by an angry driver. He threaten to call the police. I called the police & another car. Both arrived at the same time. It is totally inappropriate to expect a woman to get out of a vehicle in the dead of night because any angry person demands it.
"This is a safety issue for your customer. Your driver was in no danger."
Lyft replied two hours later:
"The feedback alleged that you refused to exit the driver's vehicle after they requested you do so. As a reminder, drivers are free to end a ride for any reason as long as the drop off is in a safe location," it said.
"Safety is our top priority. We take these matters very seriously. We encourage everyone using Lyft to be respectful of others. This helps maintain a safe and inclusive community.
"Please know that future reports of this nature may lead to additional action being taken on your account."
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