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Following passenger attacks, SF District Attorney asks the city to crack down on ridesharing


uber_liabilityBad news for Uber tends to come in waves. First there was the weird pseudo-kidnapping case involving an Uber driver in Southern California who took his drunk unconscious passenger to a motel. Now, the San Francisco D.A. has charged a different Uber driver with battery of a transit passenger after the driver allegedly assaulted his passenger in November.

Pando reported on the assault case last year, and it prompted our investigation into Uber’s background check practices, which revealed that they were shitty. In the months since, Uber announced it was expanding its background check procedures to include county level searches, but it still refused to do the more expensive and far more official Live Scan checks that are required for many taxi companies.

The latest spate of incidents may be the controversy that forces the company to do better. At least, it has motivated the San Francisco D.A. to start applying political pressure to the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the ridesharing industry. ““We recognize that these companies provide a valuable service. However, we need to ensure that consumers and the public are protected. That is why my office has been in communication with the California Public Utilities Commission, to express our concerns about huge holes in the current regulatory scheme, particularly around hiring practices and insurance requirements for drivers,” D.A. spokesperson Alex Bastian told Pando. 

The District Attorney has been keeping an eye on Uber since November, when driver Daveea Whitmire allegedly assaulted his passenger, James Alva. Alva took the case to the D.A., and the office discovered that Whitmire had a record, having served time in prison for selling marijuana and cocaine, and currently serving probation for another assault. “He’s on probation for battery, stemming from October 31 2012. On the day of the Giants celebration parade at 3 pm he engaged in a confrontation with an employee in a liquor store. He put his hands on an employee and kicked the door,” Bastian says.

The D.A. held off on filing assault charges for Alva’s case since he hadn’t sustained any injuries. But then in March 2014, a few months later, Whitmire allegedly attacked another stranger on Haight Street. “The victim was verbally accosted by the defendant and the defendant grabbed her ponytail and slammed her to the ground,” Bastian says. With that assault charge up again, the D.A. decided to pursue the Alva case as well, under “Battery of a transit passenger,” which carries longer sentences than just plain battery.

Bastian says the SF D.A.’s office believes it’s the first to charge a ridesharing driver with battery of a transit passenger. “Because we’re in SF we are at the cutting edge of a lot of these issues. There are systemic things we can do that can benefit the community. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of a cure,” Bastian says.



California School District Paying To Monitor Students’ Public Posts On Facebook, Other Social Networks


Students in California’s Glendale Unified School District: Big Brother is watching. In this case, Big Brother is Hermosa Beach, Calif.-based Geo Listening, which is being paid $ 40,500 by the school district to monitor public posts on Facebook and other social networks by students.

CBS Los Angeles reported on the arrangement, with Superintendent Richard Sheehan saying that 13,000 students at eight Glendale middle and high schools were being monitored, and adding:

The whole purpose is student safety. Basically, it just monitors for keywords where if a student is considering harming themselves, harming someone else.

We do monitor on- and off-campus, but we do pay attention during school hours. We do pay more attention to the school computers.

Citing an example where the monitoring paid off, and a student expressing suicidal thoughts received help, Sheehan told CBS Los Angeles:

The administrator was contacted at the school site. Then we made contact with the student, the student’s family, and we got them the appropriate help.

Geo Listening CEO Chris Frydrych told CBS Los Angeles:

We have provided information to school districts, which has led to numerous successful interventions on behalf of students that intended self-harm, suicide, bullying, truancy, substance abuse, and vandalism. We monitor only public posts to social networks. We do not monitor privatized pages, SMS, MMS, email, phone calls, voicemails.

And Felicia Johnson, mother of Hoover High School student Elijah Augustine, is in favor of the program, telling CBS Los Angeles:

If there was a red flag, if he’s talking about stress at school or he can’t take it anymore, if I won’t be able to deal with it, I would want somebody to come in.

Readers: What are your thoughts on the Glendale Unified School District’s use of social media monitoring services from Geo Listening?

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