Taxi driver sen­tenced for in­de­cent as­sault

Rotorua Daily Post - - Local News - Saman­tha Ol­ley

Aformer Ro­torua taxi driver who re­peat­edly stuck his hand down a woman’s top and pants has avoided pri­son.

Man­deep Singh ap­peared in the Ro­torua Dis­trict Court yes­ter­day morn­ing af­ter pre­vi­ously plead­ing guilty to in­de­cently as­sault­ing a fe­male over 16.

Judge Maree McKen­zie handed down a sen­tence in­clud­ing four months’ home de­ten­tion, a $200 emo­tional harm re­pay­ment to the vic­tim, and the first strike of a three-strike warn­ing for ma­jor vi­o­lent and sex­ual of­fences.

Judge McKen­zie said, “there needs to be a strong mes­sage to Singh and other taxi driv­ers in Ro­torua that they can­not abuse their po­si­tion of trust the way Singh did”.

“Peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly fe­males, should be able to feel safe and con­fi­dent when get­ting into a taxi, par­tic­u­larly at night time.”

Singh kept his head bowed and main­tained a blank, com­posed face through­out the sen­tenc­ing.

His wife, who sat in the pub­lic gallery on the op­po­site of the room, kept her hands in her face, sighed, and cried for the lat­ter half of the sen­tenc­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the sum­mary of facts, Singh was work­ing as a taxi driver for Ro­torua Taxis in the early hours of Au­gust 25.

At 12.15am he picked up four cus­tomers from Utuhina, in­clud­ing his fe­male vic­tim.

He dropped the woman home but she had for­got­ten her keys and de­cided to walk to her friend’s house to get them.

About 12.45am Singh saw her walk­ing alone, stopped and asked if she was okay.

He of­fered to give her a ride but she said she had no money to pay.

Singh told her not to worry and was driv­ing her back when he put his hand on the woman’s thigh.

She asked him to take his hand off but Singh started rub­bing the area in­stead.

She grabbed Singh’s hand and pushed it away to stop him, how­ever, he im­me­di­ately placed his left hand on the woman’s arm.

He then moved his hand down to the front right-side of the woman’s jeans, in­side her top and to­wards her lower stom­ach.

Af­ter at­tempts to stop Singh’s be­hav­iour, all of which were ig­nored, the woman yelled at him to “F ****** leave her alone”.

Singh even­tu­ally re­moved his hand from out of her jeans, let­ting go of her.

When he ar­rived at the woman’s friend’s house, Singh asked for her phone num­ber, to which she replied: “ab­so­lutely not”.

The woman tried to open the pas­sen­ger door when Singh reached over and put his hand down her top for one to two sec­onds be­fore the woman was able to turn her back.

The woman got out of the taxi, told Singh he was a creep and couldn’t treat her like that, and then called po­lice.

Singh gave no rea­son­able jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for his ac­tions when ques­tioned by po­lice.

He said it was his mis­take. Yes­ter­day his de­fence coun­sel, Erin Reilly, ar­gued the as­sault was “fleet­ing and op­por­tunis­tic” and “oc­curred in the con­text of a dis­tress­ing time for Singh and his fam­ily”.

She said he had since been to coun­selling, was do­ing vol­un­tary work at his tem­ple and was “ex­tremely re­morse­ful”.

Reilly said Singh could only pay $200 in repa­ra­tions be­cause of fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties since los­ing his job.

“His wife is hold­ing the fort at the mo­ment,” she said.

Po­lice prose­cu­tor Roger Schreuder said the as­sault was “rather more or­ches­trated than op­por­tunis­tic”.

The vic­tim’s im­pact state­ment said “she was an­gry and dis­gusted at what hap­pened”, had “lost trust” and was now “ap­pre­hen­sive about get­ting into a taxi by her­self”.

Judge McKen­zie did not adopt the de­fence’s re­quests for a com­mu­nity de­ten­tion sen­tence.

She said the ag­gra­vat­ing fea­tures ranged from a breach of trust to the fact she ac­cepted the as­sault was par­tially or­ches­trated and the mit­i­gat­ing fac­tors in­cluded that Singh had no pre­vi­ous con­vic­tions.

She adopted a start­ing point of eight months’ im­pris­on­ment, re­duced it by 11⁄2 months for the mit­i­gat­ing fea­tures, and by an­other 11⁄2 months for Singh’s guilty plea.

Judge McKen­zie then con­verted the five-month pri­son term to four months’ de­ten­tion at Singh’s home in Fen­ton Park, and or­dered him “to do any coun­selling or pro­gramme di­rected by a pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer”.

Last month, Ro­torua Taxis chair­man Ken Driver told the Ro­torua Daily Post he viewed taxi cam footage of the in­ci­dent and Singh was sus­pended.

Land Trans­port was con­tacted and Singh’s P en­dorse­ment, al­low­ing him to op­er­ate a com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle, was re­voked.

Driver said Ro­torua Taxis took all com­plaints se­ri­ously and were in­ves­ti­gated im­me­di­ately. He said he wanted all women to feel safe and se­cure dur­ing a taxi ride.

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