NEW ORLEANS -- A scathing report by the New Orleans inspector general highlights “neglect of duty,” “gross negligence” and “lying” on the part of recently fired taxicab bureau chief Malachi Hull.
The administrative investigation, released today in response to a public records request, was sparked after WWL-TV aired videotaped confrontations in which taxicab bureau inspectors are seen using physical force in carrying out their duties.
The report also slams Hull for failing to collect fees and maintain records, stating he “was made aware of the chaotic file maintenance on numerous occasions; however, he never acted to address the situation.”
Hull was fired without explanation on the Fourth of July, but the inspector general’s report seems to have precipitated the dismissal. The report specifically calls into question Hull’s handling of the two physical altercations documented by WWL-TV.
“Due to (Deputy Director) Hull’s gross negligence and neglect of duty he failed to ensure public safety,” the report states.
In the first run-in on Oct. 23, taxicab inspector Ronnie Blake can be seen pepper spraying cab driver Emmanuel Esterlin after citing him for illegal parking on Dauphine Street.
In the second case, taxicab inspector Wilton Joiner grabbed tour guide Wendy Bosma, leaving visible bruises across her arm, after confronting her during a “Haunted History” tour. The report states that “Hull was actually on the scene, yet he did nothing to stop this from happening or continuing.”
Both inspectors have since been charged. Joiner was cited for a municipal charge of simple battery, while Blake was booked with a state battery charge. Both cases are pending.
Hull, meanwhile, compounded his problems by lying, according to the inspector general’s report.
When asked by inspector general investigators if the taxicab inspectors had police training that would allow them to physically confront license holders and make arrests, he responded by saying, “Only the ones who went through training.”
But emails obtained by the inspector general’s office show that while Hull repeatedly tried to obtain police training for his inspectors, the training never took place.
“Hull lied about his knowledge of the (taxicab bureau) investigators lack of training,” the report states.
Attorney Tom Shlosman, who has filed federal lawsuits against Hull on behalf of Esterlin and Bosma, said those complaints are only two of many.
“My phone was ringing off the hook with people who wanted to share their stories of instances abuse and harassment at the hands of these investigators,” Shlosman said. “It (the firing) should have happened a long time ago. The city was dragging their feet in terminating Mr. Hull. We’re just lucky that other people haven’t been injured because of it.”
Hull’s unceremonious dismissal caps a swift fall from grace from the once-celebrated deputy director. After his arrival in 2011, the city applauded Hull’s controversial overhaul of the taxicab industry by requiring drivers to install cameras, credit card machines and drive newer vehicles.
Shortly after the Esterlin and Bosma complaints, the city lauded Hull on its website for being named “Regulator of the Year” by the International Association of Transportation Regulators.
“We are proud of Malachi for being a leader in reform and innovation,” then-Deputy Mayor for Operations Michelle Thomas is quoted saying in the press release.
With Hull’s firing, the city said it would not comment on the reasons or timing of the dismissal, saying it is being handled as a personnel matter.