Police: Darien Uber driver attacks not part of national trend

Photo of Erin Kayata
Dash cam video shows Uber driver Sijo George being punched and kicked by a passenger Friday night in Darien.

Dash cam video shows Uber driver Sijo George being punched and kicked by a passenger Friday night in Darien.

Sijo George / Video screengrab

DARIEN — Police say two recent attacks on Uber drivers in town appear to be isolated incidents and not part of a larger national trend of carjackings and other violence targeting ride-share drivers.

Darien police Sgt. James Palmieri said these incidents have been rare locally and drugs or alcohol were likely involved in the two attacks that have occurred in the past six weeks.

“In both instances, it appears that the suspects may have been under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs — but of course, there is no way to say definitively,” Palmieri said.

Christopher Doherty, 57, was charged with third-degree robbery and second-degree intimidation due to bias after police said he became physically aggressive toward the Uber driver who picked him up on Midbrook Lane on July 20.

Doherty used racial slurs and threatened bodily harm after the driver realized he was not the intended passenger for the ride and tried to take him back to his pickup location, police said. Doherty is due back in court Oct. 26.

Last week, Shandaken Ford, 21, was arrested on charges of third-degree assault, criminal mischief and breach of peace after police said dashboard video captured him attacking an Uber driver who brought him and a friend home from Stamford on Aug. 27.

Police said Ford fled the area before they arrived and he turned himself in Wednesday after a warrant was issued for his arrest. The Darien resident is scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 13.

In the warrant, obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, police said the video showed Ford throwing “nine punches with a closed right hand to the left side of (the victim’s) head, neck, arm and stomach area while (the victim) was still seat-belted in the driver’s seat.”

The warrant also noted Ford kicked the driver “several times,” but police said they could not determine the exact amount due to the camera’s position and poor lighting.

“Within the video, it is clear that Shane was an unprovoked aggressor,” the warrant stated. “(The driver) attempted to block the punches and at no time was he captured on video hitting Shane.”

Ford’s attorney, Mark Sherman, said his client is “deeply sorry and regretful for what happened that night.”

An Uber spokesperson said Ford has been banned from the ride-sharing service after the incident was reported to the company.

“The actions in this video are horrifying and something no one should have to experience,” Uber said in a statement. “We are deeply committed to the safety of drivers who use the Uber app.”

In an interview with Hearst Connecticut Media, the driver, Sijo George, said he feared for his life and is no longer driving for Uber.

Uber said it’s launched several in-app safety features to help drivers as attacks have increased nationwide. Uber riders and drivers can share trip information in real time with others in case an incident occurs. The app also has an emergency button, which enables drivers and riders to call 911.

Police across the country have reported a surge in carjackings, with many Uber and Lyft drivers being targeted.

In July, The Markup published a report that showed there have been more than 100 attacks on ride-share drivers this year. The nonprofit, which investigates technology’s impact on society, found that many of the drivers worked for Uber or Lyft and are independent contractors who do not receive benefits or much say in who they pick up for rides.

Palmieri said police encourage anyone whose ride turns dangerous to exit the vehicle as swiftly as possible.

“We would suggest that anyone involved in an incident similar to this attempt to remove themselves from the situation, if possible to do so safely, and to call 911 immediately,” he said. “Investigations can always be conducted after the fact, but the safety of the driver is our priority in these scenarios.”

Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson did not respond to a request for comment about the incidents.