Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Two D.C. pedicab operators arrested on the National Mall

April 4, 2012 - 11:36 AM
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(Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Blackwell)

"Did he get tased?" asks pedicab operator Daniel Blackwell standing alongside the road in front of the Natural History Museum on Sunday afternoon, March 25, as a crowd gathers to stare at one of his fallen colleagues. "Did anyone see if he got tased? Did they slam him on the ground? Was he resisting arrest or anything?"

Two Park Police officers bend down to look at another groaning black-haired pedicab operator, his face against the grass and lying on his stomach on the National Mall. They talk into their radio. On the street is a little green pedicab, abandoned. One officer fastens handcuffs on the young man, a manager at National Pedicabs.

This pedicab operator calls himself Oskar Mosco and is the same one who was arrested last fall and formed the D.C. Pedicab Operators' Association to advocate for operators amid the evolving regulations and allegations of harassment that have come up in the last year. He was last arrested in November but the case was dismissed earlier this year. The National Park Service controls the pedicab territory of the National Mall, and Park Police enforce the rules. Yet the NPS is still developing its formal pedicab regulations, which will apparently mirror those the District Department of Transportation released last year. The Park Police note that D.C. traffic regulations apply, however, and regularly write tickets to the region's pedicabbers.

"You all right, man?" a Park Police officer asks Mosco. After moments of semi-conscious writhing, the operator has begun to sit up. "It was very clear. You disobeyed every order I gave you and then you resisted arrest."

Mosco attempts to ask what orders he disobeyed.

"We are no longer discussing this," the Park Police officer tells him. "You are under arrest."

The two officers pull Mosco to his feet and escort him to a police car, in which a second pedicab operator sits, as Mosco shouts that he was arrested for videotaping the police. "You should not get arrested for videotaping a police officer!" Mosco yelled to onlookers in front of the Natural History Museum. "This is a free country, not a police state!"

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Blackwell)

He received some laughs as well as looks of sympathy. One person remarked it was a shame. Another questioned the forced used against the operator. Blackwell, the pedicab operator videotaping this arrest (who asked not to reveal the clip but showed it to me), said that Mosco "hasn't done anything wrong" as he watches the arrest happen. "We're all here just trying to make a living. We are a green mode of transportation."

But what was the crime in question that put two pedicab operators in the back of a Park Police vehicle with handcuffs restraining them on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the end of March? Mosco recalled the wonderful weather when describing the afternoon to me. "Every pedicabber was making money," he remarked about the day later. Mosco initially wasn't even involved in the scuffle with Park Police. He received a call about trouble with one of his colleagues. He arrived and pretended to videotape the proceedings with a new video camera, which he couldn't, in truth, even operate yet. Later on Facebook he recounted this exchange, not captured in his colleague's video clip:

"Put your camera away."

"I don't have to put my camera away."

"Put your hands behind your back."

He was placed behind bars for the night, where he was known as Number 47. Painkillers helped him sleep for a few hours, he said, in the cell bunk bed. The charge was, he tells me, simply "resisting arrest," although court records show the same charge that he received and dropped before: "Assault on a Police Officer (Misdemeanor)." The fellow arrested pedicabber was Tom Folkes, a veteran operator of three years. Folkes was told to move and disobeyed but, Mosco says, there was "no chance for him to actually move." According to Park Police spokesman Sergeant David Schlosser, many pedicabbers in the area were told to move and received "no standing" tickets. Folkes didn't move even after a ticket, apparently, according to Park Police, and asked about what would happen if he didn't and continued to debate the situation. His arrest, Schlosser told me, was for failure to obey a lawful order but he was released shortly after and not kept in jail overnight.

Mosco approached and initially placed his hands on the handlebars of Folkes' pediacb to move it but was told Park Police would take the vehicle, according to Schlosser. Park Police asked him to move to another spot twice, Mosco says, which he did, but then the officer said he would write a ticket. Then he was asked to show his ID, which he also did. Then he realized that maybe he should videotape this — or at least pretend to. "It was more in principle," he told me.

What happened next remains unclear.

Schlosser recounts that Mosco held his cell phone camera in the officers' faces — "like 6 to 12 inches from the officer's face" — and refused to step out of the bus loading zone. Another eyewitness, however, was the pedicabber Shamir Spencer, who first called Mosco to the scene and was "no more than 50 feet away" when Mosco was thrown to the ground. He denies that Mosco ever held the camera in the face of officers except for when officers entered Mosco's personal space. Mosco was, Schlosser said, "argumentative." Mosco describes officers apprehending him and a situation where he ducked a bit. Spencer said that Mosco may have flinched when officers apprehended him but hardly attacked or sought to physically confront any officer, despite the assault charges. A Park Police officer then allegedly used his leg to bring Mosco to the ground, which resulted in the groaning unconsciousness depicted in the video his coworker shot. An NPS spokeswoman describing the incident mentioned one of the officers later visited the hospital, but both officers shown in the video walked around in seemingly fine health in stark contrast to the blacked-out pedicabber down on the dirt. Schlosser alluded to "scrapes, abrasions, and contusions" on one of the officer's knees. Park Police initially called for an ambulance for Mosco, Schlosser noted, but the pedicab operator allegedly refused. Yet Schlosser denies there's "any specific friction" between Park Police and pedicabbers and chalks the various citations and arrests up to traffic management.

"I'm a little fried mentally," Mosco told me little over a week after the incident. His body was still in pain, and he had seen a chiropractor the day before. "I'm a little scared to go out there, honestly."

Fellow pedicabber Spencer, who witnessed much of the scuffle, describes the encounter as "personal." Why was Mosco singled out for his faux-videotaping while Blackwell was able to videotape freely? Spencer received his first ticket from Park Police this week and describes a Park Police who want money out of its pedicabbers. He usually waits to venture to the Mall until after 2 p.m. because Park Police, by their conventional wisdom, ticket heavily between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

"Oskar chose to stand up for his liberties," Spencer said. "Most of us chickened out."

24 hours after the incident, Mosco pled not guilty to officer assault at his arraignment. He had already begun filing a lawsuit over his earlier arrest and confirms that he and his attorney will also be objecting quite strongly to this arrest, too. He's back in the National Pedicab offices this week but plans to see a chiropractor again. He's not sure how to digest the incident but has talked about it with plenty of his colleagues. Was this last arrest retaliation? Some worry he took a "provocative" stance, he tells me, but to Mosco, the Park Police reaction was "completely unnecessary." His initial status hearing is set for Tuesday, April 17 at 9:30 a.m.

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Blackwell)

Update, 2:38 p.m., April 10: I've been reviewing Oskar Mosco's March 26 charging documents, which contain the account from Park Police Officer Michael Blake, the man who arrested him and brought him to the ground. Blake affirms much of what Schlosser as well as Mosco explained to me about the incident. Here's how he describes the altercation after he asked Mosco to show his ID card:

[Mosco] complied but then began to argue when I informed him that he would be receiving a citation. [He] pulled out his cell phone and held it approximately 12" from my face. I told [him] to put his phone down. [He] began yelling that he did not have to, then yelled you can't stop stop me from taping the police, these are my rights. I told [Mosco] to turn around and put his hands behind his back because he is under arrest. [The pedicab operator] did not comply and continued yelling. Ofc. Hiott and I forced his hands behind his back and I attached one cuff to his left wrist. [He] violently resisted and pulled his right hand free. Ofc. Hiott warned [him] that he would get pepper sprayed. [He] continued to struggle and yell. I performed an arm bar take down and took [him] to the ground, then was able to complete the handcuffing. During the take down, [he] became injured and had bleeding around his mouth. I sustained an injury with bleeding to my left knee.

It's no surprise to me that Mosco's mouth was bleeding. The officers had sent him straight into the ground face first, from what I saw in the video of the aftermath.

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