It’s a case of one man’s word against another’s. One, a Queens cab driver of Egyptian descent, faces another, a white Morgan Stanley banker from Darien, in a court battle over a ride that ended in a haze of competing facts, allegations and a bloodied hand.
The two men agree upon very little. One thing is fact: Mohamed Anmar, the cab driver, managed to call police that cold December night as his hand gushed blood after confronting the banker, William Bryan Jennings.
Jennings avoided contacting police for about two weeks. When he did come forward, it was with his lawyer, Eugene Riccio. Darien Police didn’t issue an arrest warrant until two months after the incident.
In the meantime, Anmar had given police a second statement. This time, his story had changed slightly and he added details — he noted the exact price of the fare ($204) when he hadn’t before, he told police that they had stopped for food, and he also said Jennings angrily told him to “go back to your country,” which resulted in the police charging Jennings for intimidation based on bigotry or bias, a felony.
Whose truth is it?
Anmar did not have a lawyer’s help for either of his statements. Police added the felony hate crime to the larceny and felony assault charges, but only after Anmar’s second statement. Riccio pounced on this, perceiving it to be one of “numerous material misstatements and material omissions” between Anmar’s two accounts. The Bridgeport lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the case in its entirety, two weeks before a pre-trial court date of April 12.
“The affidavit to support the arrest warrant… contains false statements that were made knowingly and intentionally or with reckless disregard for the truth,” Riccio’s motion states, adding that it “also omits material facts, that collectively were necessary to the determination that probable cause existed to arrest” Jennings.
The defense’s motion cites 10 instances where Anmar’s original, verbal testimony appears to be inconsistent with a later written statement given to police, or where both statements omit certain elements. For example, there are inconsistencies with the site of the stabbing and how much the original fare was and if it was agreed upon beforehand.
The motion also implies that some statements were simply untrue, such as how much alcohol Jennings had consumed and for how long, and some statements were omitted, such as Riccio’s claim that Anmar “deliberately went through a stop sign at too high a rate of speed for (Jennings) to safely exit the vehicle.”
Anmar later admitted to running a stop sign, as he feared Jennings would flee and leave him with the $204 cab fare. Jennings said Anmar asked him for $294 and he refused, feeling like Anmar was trying “to take advantage” of his wealth.
Testing the testimonies
While at first glance, Anmar’s two statements contain omissions and might appear inconsistent, that does not mean his account should be thrown out, according to Dr. Norman Klein, a forensic psychologist based in Westport with more than 30 years’ experience.
“While one can go broke betting on what a court (or) judge will decide, it is unlikely that the motion to dismiss will be granted given the seriousness of the charges,” Klein wrote in an email to The Darien Times. “Changing one’s story before trial… is not the same thing as changing sworn testimony once the trial (or deposition) begins.”
Klein added that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable, and in this case, it’s one man’s word against another. Dr. Gary Wells, a psychologist at Iowa State University, has advocated for a revamping of the legal system’s eyewitness procedures for years, writing 175 articles and two books on the subject of eyewitness memory.
“The psychological processes leading to eyewitness error represent a confluence of memory and social influence variables that interact in complex ways,” Wells and colleagues wrote in an article for Psychological Science in the Public Interest.
Convictions based on line-up identifications have led to a growing movement to fix the system. The Associated Press found that at least 110 men have been exonerated by DNA testing, after having been found guilty due primarily to eyewitness testimony. These men spent an average of more than 10 years behind bars for crimes they did not commit.
The reliability and character of Jennings and Anmar will likely come under scrutiny as the case plays out, Klein said, as truth in the courtroom is based on “persuasive argument.”
And as time passes, facts can become even more intertwined with fiction.
“One’s interpretation and homogenization of the facts and behaviors even at the time of the event may be inaccurate, truncated, unfocussed or exaggerated,” Klein said. “Memory can be notoriously faulty over time, especially if it is of an event fraught with stress and trauma.”
Jennings’ version came weeks after the incident, and with the help of a lawyer. He also admitted to drinking several beers before getting his ride home, and he slept for the majority of the 40-mile drive. Alcohol and fatigue could also cloud the level of alertness at the event or during its retelling, Klein said.
However, it’s difficult to know the small details that could affect each man’s story. Medical conditions, job stress, family problems, criminal history and personal prejudices can affect how both the driver and the banker remember their confrontation, Klein said.
Police have little to go on, other than the competing statements. The blood in Anmar’s car and the cut on his hand are the only physical evidence police have, aside from the food wrappers Jennings left in the cab as he bolted toward his Knollwood Avenue home. The knife that caused Anmar to get six stitches is still missing.
But were the wounds to Anmar’s hand a result of defending himself from stabbing attempts made by Jennings, who drew the penknife after Anmar sped across an unfamiliar town, searching for a police officer to resolve the fare dispute? Or was Anmar cut because he was trying to take the knife from the Jennings, who feared he was being abducted?
Some would argue that a polygraph examination could help sort through the minutiae. Jennings’ defense claims that Darien Police reneged on its commitment to schedule a polygraph for both Jennings and Anmar, and instead opted to give only Jennings the lie detector, according to Riccio. Riccio asked police to drop the charges if his client passed the test, but police refused to agree to such terms. Polygraph examinations are rarely admissible in court.
Eye in the taxi
Surveillance cameras might have offered an objective account of the event, but no such footage exists. New York City passed an ordinance allowing cab drivers to install cameras in 2000. Just over a year ago, a camera recorded a botched robbery in Queens that ended with the cab driver taking a bullet.
The camera is also seen as a deterrent against crime, and New York taxis are required to post signs telling riders they are being photographed. In Seattle, violent crimes against cab drivers dropped 27% after the city required all drivers to get cameras in 2006, according to the Seattle Police Department. Arrest rates also increased by 6%.
In New York City, however, less than 1% of yellow cabs are equipped with cameras, according to Allan Fromberg, a spokesperson for the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission.
Fromberg said the plastic partition is normally a sufficient safety device to protect drivers. He declined to speculate on whether Anmar would have been safer with a camera, or if photos would benefit the police investigation.
Partitions are less prevalent in cabs on the West Coast, said Craig Leisy, Seattle’s manager of consumer affairs. “They’re not bullet proof,” Leisy said. “They’re bullet resistant. If somebody wants to shoot you they can just get out and shoot you from the window.”
But even the camera isn’t infallible. In 2007, a botched robbery in Seattle ended with the driver being murdered and his car set on fire, which torched any chance of using the camera’s images.
Anmar did not have to give Jennings the ride home, as New York cabbies are only required to take people within the five boroughs. Outside of that would be up to the driver’s discretion. Jennings was supposed to get a ride with a car service that night, but after waiting for a while, he decided to hail a cab.
Jennings has since been put on indefinite leave from his position as the co-head of fixed income capital markets in North America at Morgan Stanley. Anmar still drives a taxi.
“I just don’t feel safe anymore,” Anmar told the New York Post in early March. “This has been a problem for all cab drivers… I regret letting him into my cab.”
If convicted, Jennings faces more than 10 years in prison and a $10,500 fine. Under Connecticut’s hate crime statute, Anmar could seek civil damages from Jennings. Although Riccio urged police to charge Anmar with unlawful restraint and reckless endangerment, no such charges have been filed.
“There is no such dispute by (Anmar) that he engaged in such conduct,” Riccio stated in a memo to Darien Police Det. Chester Perkowski in mid-February.
But, as forensic psychologist Dr. Klein points out, everyone’s memory is subject to subjectivity. “It is a natural, human proclivity to fill-in one’s recollection with ‘evidence’ that makes sense, serves one’s purposes, or promotes completeness,” Klein said.
Anmar’s lawyer, Hassan Ahmad, declined to comment for this article.