On a cool night at the end of January, a New Orleans businessman tried to catch a cab near St. Ann and Dauphine streets after Krewe du Vieux rolled. But instead of going home, he left the French Quarter in an ambulance following a ferocious — and previously unpublicized — attack that the man, who is gay, attributed in part to his sexual orientation.
Nearly six months later, the cab driver, Simion Hachi, a Moldovan national, faces a felony prosecution and, if convicted, deportation.
The businessman, whose jaw was broken and wired shut for 34 days, remains stricken with agonizing pain.
In an interview this week, he said he considered the assault a hate crime, even though the run-in began with a disagreement over what the taxi fare would be. According to an arrest warrant, Hachi called the man an “AIDS f***er” before getting out of the taxi and beating him unconscious in the street.
“I think that he had a hate of homosexuals,” said the businessman, who spoke on condition that his name not be printed. “I really felt like I was going to die.”
Louisiana law provides stricter punishments for assailants who “select the victim” of a crime based on sexual orientation. However, Tyler Gamble, a New Orleans Police Department spokesman, said detectives do not believe this case fits the criteria for a hate crime.
“After interviewing the witness, the victim and the perpetrator, detectives learned that the comment was made in anger during the initial argument,” Gamble said. “It was not connected to the actual crime that took place, which was second-degree battery.”
Hachi’s case is one of at least two this year involving allegations of a violent assault by a New Orleans cab driver. This week, Yellow Cab driver Jeremiah Knox was arrested after police said he opened fire on a motorist in an apparent road-rage incident.
In the earlier case, Hachi pleaded not guilty this spring to one count of second-degree battery and was released on $10,000 bail. His defense attorney, Raymond Bigelow, declined to comment on the case.
“That’s what we have courts for,” Bigelow said. “We’ll deal with the allegations in court.”
While the businessman said police told him Hachi’s taxi permit had been either suspended or revoked, Hachi wrote on his Facebook page last week that he still drives a cab.
City Hall spokesman Brad Howard said Wednesday night that the city revoked Hachi’s driver’s permit in 2013 “through the administrative hearing process for infractions not related to this incident.” He said the permit was reinstated in 2014 by a Civil District Court judge.
“The city is closely monitoring (Hachi’s) case to determine appropriate next steps,” Howard said.
The beating of the businessman happened Jan. 31, three weeks after a throng of demonstrators, galvanized by a spate of violent crime in the French Quarter, gathered in Jackson Square to demand additional police protection. The incident attracted no media attention at the time and was not included in the so-called major offense log distributed daily by the New Orleans Police Department, likely because it initially was dispatched as a simple battery, a misdemeanor.
After the parade passed, about 9:30 p.m., the businessman said, he decided to go home and to share a cab with a friend. The friend hailed Hachi, who, according to the businessman, said he would charge $30 to drive him less than 2 miles. The businessman protested the rate, saying the trip shouldn’t cost more than $10.
“It’s Mardi Gras,” Hachi responded, according to the arrest warrant. The driver maintained he “could charge whatever he wanted,” the document says.
The businessman, vowing to report the driver for price gouging, took out his cellphone and snapped a photograph of Hachi behind the wheel. Another photo captured the vehicle’s cab number and company name, Daniella Hacking Corp., a business registered to taxi magnate Yevgeniy “Gene” Gekker.
It was at that point that Hachi made the AIDS comment, the businessman said. Within moments, the businessman said, he had wandered about 50 feet away, his phone back in his pocket, when he caught a glimpse of Hachi approaching out of the corner of his eye. Suddenly, he felt the wind leaving his lungs, followed by an intense pressure. Then, he lost consciousness.
He later learned his friend had pulled Hachi off of him, he said, and that the driver had left the scene. When the businessman awoke, he was face down, bleeding from the ears and face.
“At that point, I could tell that most of my teeth had been damaged, because I could move my jawbone around,” he said. “My mouth was full of teeth.”
The injuries were extensive. The warrant says the businessman was treated at Interim LSU Hospital for “multiple jaw fractures, fractured ribs, broken teeth, facial contusions, a concussion and a torn rotator cuff.”
Because the man was too incoherent initially to answer questions from the police and later had his mouth wired shut for more than a month, Hachi was not identified and taken into custody until late March. “I wanted to make sure that I was completely off the drugs, the pain medication” before completing the police report, the businessman said.
The businessman underwent surgery and spent two days in the hospital. At one point during his hospitalization, after spitting out a large volume of blood, he overheard his roommate telling someone that “the dude beside me is bleeding out.” Later, he endured hours in a dental chair having extensive work done to repair massive damage to his teeth.
Today, he sleeps in a recliner because he cannot lie down without feeling a pain he likened to being burned by a stove. Even his voice has been altered by the attack.
The businessman, struggling in the interview to maintain his composure, said the attack had caused “a huge change in my life.”
“I’ve got a lot of people around me supporting me,” he said. “But it’s been tough.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.