A black man drives his biracial wife to work. Suddenly, city investigators accuse him of being an illegal taxi driver for the act. Now he’s suing those who he says wrongfully prosecuted him due to racial profiling.
Dan Keys, a 66-year-old black man, was driving his wife Symone Palermo, a 53-year-old biracial woman to work at a mall in the Queens borough of New York City in the couple’s Lincoln Town Car on May 8, 2013. Palermo, the registered owner of the car, was sitting in the backseat because the passenger seat was damp from rain the previous night, DNAinfo New York reported.
After Palermo exited the car, three investigators from the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission pulled Keys over. They accused the husband of operating an unlicensed taxi because they said they observed him drop off a white female at the mall and that money exchanged hands. “The only reason that the TLC agents stopped Keys was because they observed an African American male driving what they thought to be a white female,” the lawsuit said.
Palermo returned to the car at this point, and explained to the three commission employees that she was Keys’ wife and the owner of the car. Despite this, “the TLC agents then signed a report stating that they observed Keys dropping off a white female passenger, that the white female passenger stated that the vehicle was being used as a taxi, and that money was exchanged between… Keys and the alleged white female passenger.” The lawsuit claims that the investigators knew the report was false when they signed it.
The TLC then “illegally seized” the Town Car for eight days, the suit said. This caused Keys to miss three days of work and Palermo to miss two, in addition to having to defend themselves against the commission’s charges.
On May 16, 2013, the couple was found not guilty by a Taxi and Limousine Tribunal hearing examiner after the investigating officer “provided inconsistent statements throughout his testimony,” hearing officer Tamara Jordan wrote in the decision.
Keys and Palermo are suing the commission for $3 million over what they say was officially sanctioned racial profiling.
“Upon information and belief, when attempting to identify illegally operated taxis, it is the official policy or custom of [the city and the TLC] to instruct its employees to target and single out vehicles operated by minorities with white passengers,” the lawsuit said.
The court documents also claimed that the city and commission did not properly investigate the couple’s allegations of misconduct by the three TLC agents who “negligently and maliciously prosecuted” the couple and “acted in bad faith.”
"We think there was no basis for the TLC to have pulled over my clients in the first instance,” the couple’s lawyer, David Haber, told DNAinfo New York.
“Once they pulled over my clients, [the investigators] had many opportunities to let them go — to realize they pulled over the wrong people. Instead they doubled down on their mistake. I believe that they flat-out lied in their summonses."
The TLC would not comment on the lawsuit’s allegations.
“We're respectfully reserving comment at this time in light of the pending litigation," agency spokesman Allan Fromberg said in a statement.