Video shows police dog severely mauls Uber driver who missed car payments

<span>Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Newly released video footage appears to show California police officers using a law enforcement dog to severely maul an Uber driver, who fell behind on payments for the car he rented to do his job.

San Ramon police stopped Ali Badr, a 42-year-old Egyptian immigrant, in December 2020 after a rental company reported his vehicle as stolen. In footage obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, police in the Bay Area city can be seen releasing the dog on the unarmed and barefoot driver without warning within seconds of stopping him, even though Badr was not resisting.

The dog clamped down on Badr’s right arm for nearly a minute, mangling him so severely that he required multiple surgeries. In a lawsuit filed last month, Badr, who was never charged, said he was left with “severe physical and psychological injuries” and has not regained full use of his arm and hand since the incident.

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“All of them are talking to me at one time,” Badr told the Chronicle. “They’re yelling at me, and all of them have guns out. I did what they say exactly.”

The case has cast a harsh light not only on the tactics of the police department but on the rental arrangements utilized by rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Badr, who was a social worker in Egypt before moving to the US, previously drove for Uber and Lyft with his own vehicle, but he could no longer afford the payments after the pandemic reduced his income, the newspaper reported. In August 2020, according to the lawsuit, he obtained a car owned by the rental rideshare startup CarMommy via a rental agreement with HyreCar, a rental car company serving gig workers.

He fell behind on his payments toward the end of the contract, the Chronicle reported, but made arrangements to pay the company. CarMommy’s CEO, John Blomeke, reported the vehicle as stolen, which language in the contract Badr signed stipulated could happen if he fell behind on payments and “other criteria were met”, according to the newspaper. HyreCar declined to comment on the matter while Uber and CarMommy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rental agreements such as these became common as Uber and Lyft expanded across the US. Short-term car rentals through partners such as HyreCar offer fewer hoops to jump through than typical car rental arrangements, and the short-term car rentals gave Uber and Lyft access to a new pool of drivers.

But some drivers have claimed that the rental arrangements can be predatory, sometimes requiring higher rental and other costs in exchange for lower pay. For some drivers like Badr, it was at times difficult to make enough to cover the monthly or weekly payments, at which point drivers were typically required to immediately return the vehicle. For many that meant losing at least one source of income and, in some cases, their temporary homes.

Dash- and body-cam video shows Badr, who appears to be trying to put on his shoes, cooperating with officers’ demands during a traffic stop. But, within seconds, an officer releases the large dog who immediately bites Badr’s arm. As the dog attacks him, Badr screams and repeatedly yells “What I did? What I did?” while officers inspect the car with their guns drawn.

Badr told the Chronicle that after being transported by ambulance, he was handcuffed to a hospital bed and underwent surgery for his injuries. The police department sought charges for vehicle theft and resisting arrest against Badr, but the Contra Costa district attorney in March declined to file charges due to “insufficient evidence and the interest of justice”, a DA spokesperson said.

The San Ramon police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to his lawsuit, Badr suffered “permanent and extensive” damage to his arm and hand, which are badly scarred, and has “undergone substantial mental health treatment and therapy”. The city of San Ramon, the police chief and officers are named in the lawsuit, along with HyreCar, CarMommy and company CEO Blomeke.

US police dogs bite thousands of people each year and are often used on people who are not violent or suspected of minor crimes or in some cases no crimes at all, an investigation from the Marshall Project found. Victims of such attacks struggle to seek accountability as excessive force lawsuits involving dog bites are challenging to win, according to the outlet.