Several Uber passengers who refused to wear masks allegedly pepper sprayed their driver after he ended their ride early, according to authorities in California.
The San Francisco Police Department said that a 32-year-old car-hire driver picked up three passengers in the city’s Portola neighborhood on March 7, but ended their ride moments later when one declined to wear a face mask, violating Uber’s policy and California’s statewide mask mandate.
The driver, Subhakar Khadka, 32, told NBC News Wednesday that he noticed one of the passengers didn’t have a mask on shortly after picking them up and asked if she’d put one on. Khadka says the passenger told him that she didn’t have a mask and asked if he had one. He said he told them he didn’t and said he’d have to stop the ride if they wouldn’t put on a mask.
“They’re like, ‘How can you leave us on the side of the road?’ And I said, here’s the solution, let’s go to a gas station and get a mask before the destination,” Khadka, who’s driven for Uber since August 2018, said.
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 me,” Khadka said. Feeling intimidated, he said he asked the passengers to get out of the car. But they refused, prompting Khadka to turn on the dashcam in his car.
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, and that’s when the confrontation began.
“Luckily, my camera worked … it recorded audio, it recorded a video of the whole scene,” Khadka said. “And my point was you need to wear a mask. You need to close the door. I’m going to drop you off from my pick up point from where I picked you up.”
Khadka said one of the passengers also took out pepper spray and sprayed inside his car after he dropped them off.
“An altercation occurred and a second passenger reached over the driver’s seat (from the rear seat area) and stole the driver’s cellphone from his hands. The victim grabbed and eventually regained possession of his phone,” the police statement said.
“The suspects exited the car and the third passenger reached into an open window and sprayed what is believed to be pepper spray into the vehicle and towards the driver,” the police statement continued.
The three suspects fled and an investigation is ongoing, police said.
Khadka said the situation made him feel alone.
“I could do nothing about it. I could not lay hands on them,” he said. “I could not verbally challenge them.”
Several videos circulated after the incident shows the argument from the perspectives of the passengers and the driver, and shows the passengers ripping off the driver’s mask and coughing on him.
“The behavior seen in the video is appalling,” Uber said in a statement, adding that they have been in touch with the driver since Sunday. “The rider no longer has access to Uber.”
Khadka said he hopes that by sharing the video, justice will be served.
“The whole purpose of this video getting out was to get justice and let people know how we are being treated at work places and putting pressure on police’s investigators getting on it,” he said. “And it’s going in the right direction. And hopefully it gets solved.”