Two arrests have been made after scenes from a viral video that circulated showed passengers taunting and deliberately coughing on an Uber driver.
In the dashcam video, the driver, who had a hand on his head, looked exasperated. A woman in the passenger’s seat uttered an expletive about a mask and then coughed on the driver, while using racial slurs. Another passenger joined in, pulling down her mask and laughing. “And I got corona,” she said.
The driver refused to continue the ride, and the situation escalated. The passenger who had initially coughed on the driver grabbed his phone and tore off his mask, breaking the strap. The women continued screaming profanities.
The San Francisco Police Department said in a statement last Thursday that the driver, identified by KGO-TV as Subhakar Khadka, had picked up three passengers in the early afternoon on March 7, but when he saw that one of the women was not wearing a mask, he told them he would not continue unless they all wore masks.
In a video that was posted on Instagram and has since been removed, one passenger said that the driver was trying to make them exit the car in the middle of the freeway.
Soon, “an altercation ensued,” the police said.
One woman grabbed the driver’s cellphone, which Mr. Khadka eventually retrieved, and another passenger sprayed “what is believed to be pepper spray” into the car through an open window after they exited the vehicle, according to the police.
The flare-up is the latest high-profile example of mask conflicts, which have sometimes taken violent turns. Last year, prosecutors in Chicago said two sisters attacked a store security guard with a garbage can. One of the women stabbed the guard repeatedly with a small knife after he tried to insist that they wear masks and use the store’s hand sanitizer on entry.
In another case last year, an 80-year-old man in upstate New York was killed after he asked a bar patron to wear a mask; the patron shoved the man to the ground, causing him to hit his head.
Mr. Khadka, an Uber driver from Nepal who came to the United States eight years ago, said in an interview with KPIX that he never said anything “bad” to the women, and that they had refused to leave his car. Mr. Khadka said he believed he was singled out for their ire because he is South Asian. “If I was of another complexion, I would have not gotten that treatment from them,” he said. “The moment I opened my mouth to speak, they realized I’m not among one of them. It’s easy for them to intimidate me.”
One of the passengers was arrested in Las Vegas on Thursday, the Las Vegas Police Department said. The passenger, Malaysia King, 24, was taken into custody on a warrant for assault with a caustic chemical, assault and battery, conspiracy and violation of a health and safety code, the police said.
A second passenger — Arna Kimiai, 24, turned herself in on Sunday, the San Francisco Police Department announced. Ms. Kimiai was booked on charges of robbery, assault and battery, conspiracy, and violation of a health and safety code.
“The behavior captured on video in this incident showed a callous disregard for the safety and well-being of an essential service worker in the midst of a deadly pandemic,” said Lt. Tracy McCray, who heads the San Francisco Police Department’s robbery detail.