NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Taxi drivers staged a five-hour shutdown at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday, refusing to pick up passengers to protest the arrest of a fellow cabbie.
It was an unbelievable sight from above the airport. A sea of frozen yellow and white cabs was formed in a show of solidarity for driver Ahmed Deraz.
Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said the protest followed the arrest of Deraz around 3 p.m. Friday.
Jersey City Police Lt. Pietro Veltre, who was in uniform driving his personal vehicle on the Pulaski Skyway, claimed Deraz cut him off and continued to drive in a reckless manner, Coleman said.
Veltre followed Deraz from the Skyway to the cab staging area near the airport, where an argument ensued. Port Authority Police were called and arrested Deraz, Coleman said.
However, according to Deraz, Lt. Veltre physically pulled him out of his cab.
When asked by CBS 2′s Hazel Sanchez if he was punched, Deraz replied “he didn’t punch me.” However, Deraz said the officer did push him reaching through the window of the vehicle.
According to Jersey City Police, Lt. Veltre claims Deraz assaulted him when he pulled him over for driving erratically. Dozens of cab drivers, though, described a much different scene.
Driver Khalid Amir and others felt as though the cabbie was the victim. They said Deraz was cut off at the airport and assaulted.
“He turned the ignition off and took the keys out and he hit him in his chest with his elbow. And he got him out, then he called the cops all over. They come and they lock him up after that,” Amir told 1010 WINS.
Another driver, David Soulman, said the cabbie was “punched” in the face.
Deraz was charged with obstruction of justice and aggravated harassment, and issued summonses for following too closely, reckless driving and improper passing.
The protest broke up following Deraz’s release from custody around 8 p.m.
The Port Authority was using buses to transport incoming passengers to area rail stations to help them get to their destinations. Drivers were back in business before the evening rush of arrivals — a potential passenger nightmare diverted.
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