NEWARK — The arrest of a Newark Liberty International Airport taxi driver who allegedly shoved an off-duty cop he cut off on the Pulaski Skyway led to protests by fellow cabbies, who refused to transport people from the airport for about two hours today.
What began as a seemingly isolated incident on the skyway this afternoon had repercussions hours later for hundreds of airport travelers.
Shortly before 2:45 p.m., off-duty Jersey City Police Lt. Pietro Veltre was driving his personal vehicle on the Pulaski Skyway when he was cut off by the driver of a yellow cab who slammed on the brakes and continued to drive recklessly, Veltre told Port Authority police.
He followed the cab, driven by Ahmed Deraz, to the taxi hold area at Newark Liberty.
Veltre identified himself as a police officer and asked Deraz for his license and registration, he told Port Authority police.
“The cab driver apparently refused, and at some point got out and shoved the police lieutenant, according to the lieutenant,” said Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesman. “Our cops were called.”
Deraz, 37, of Bayonne, was charged with aggravated harassment and obstruction of justice, leading to protests by cabbies who at around 5:45 p.m. began refusing to work Newark Airport, Coleman said. Summonses were also filed against Deraz for following too closely, improper passing and reckless driving, Coleman said.
During the protest, the Port Authority used some of its internal buses to transport people to Newark Penn Station and PATH trains in Jersey City, Coleman said. In addition, cabbies from outside the area were brought in to transport passengers, he said.
As word traveled in the taxi community, yellow-cab drivers began seeing red over the men in blue.
However, what police on hand described as a near riot was diffused just before 7:45 p.m., when Deraz was released at the airport to shouts of jubilation from fellow cabbies.
He told reporters he went around Veltre’s SUV on the Pulaski Skyway because it was stopped while the cop argued with a woman in the vehicle, which also had a baby on board.
Deraz said that after the woman gave him an obscene gesture, he returned the gesture, prompting Veltre to aggressively follow him to the airport.
Deraz said the cop reached inside his cab and grabbed his keys, telling him, “I’m a (expletive) police officer, you can’t do this to me. Go back to your (expletive) country.”
Taxi driver Paulins Hilaire, 32, of Newark joined the protest in a show of solidarity for a fellow cabbie.
“They don’t have any respect for us,” Hilaire said of police.