I-Team: Taxicab Authority Under Fire Over Policy on Diseases - 8 News NOW

Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and Photojournalist Matt Adams

I-Team: Taxicab Authority Under Fire Over Policy on Diseases

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"We have three investigators on the road trying to handle 8,000 square miles and close to 2,800 cabs," said TA Supervisor Rico Constantino.

At any given time, there are only four Taxi Authority officers on duty to monitor thousands of cabs on Las Vegas roadways. Still, Supervisor Rico Constanino found time in his shift to track down a driver for the U.S. Marshals Service and to give a field sobriety test to a non-cabbie pulled over for making a wrong turn.

Although TA officers primarily focus on the taxi industry, like other peace officers, they have a lot of discretion, which is why written policies about enforcement priorities are so important, and making this unusual policy all the more disturbing.

The heading is Exposure to Communicable Diseases, spelling out how the TA can protect its employees and the public from those suspected of having infections.

Read the Taxicab Authority Policy

And who are those people? According to the TA, high-risk groups include homosexuals, I.V. drug users and prostitutes.

Former TA Officer Scott Lewis says he was floored when he read the policy manual given to him by his boss at the TA.

"It took my breath away to read that," he said. "It lumps in homosexuals and gays with drug users and prostitutes. Drug users and prostitutes as we know are criminals."

The policy spells out that TA officers should use protective gear and gloves in the event they need to take a high-risk suspect into custody.

"My question is, what is a homosexual? How can you tell? Would you ask them, ‘Are you homosexual?' and then stop, as it says, for your personal protective equipment," said Lewis.

Nevada Equal Rights Commissioner and longtime gay rights activist Lee Plotkin regards the policy as a relic of the past -- an anachronism -- especially in light of the expensive marketing campaign run by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to attract free-spending gay and lesbian tourists to Las Vegas. Plotkin says the idea that a state agency views such visitors as disease risks is abhorrent.

"It is medically, politically and socially unacceptable now," he said. "Does this mean Siegfried and Roy couldn't have gotten a cab to the Mirage. Does this mean Elton John couldn't get a cab to Caesars Palace? It's just ridiculous. I hope the TA takes the appropriate action."

Current and former employees like Scott Lewis say the TA is a world unto itself and does not welcome change. Lewis says he told his bosses about the anti-gay policy more than a year ago, but it's still on the books.

The I-Team checked other law enforcement agencies, including the Nevada Highway Patrol, UNLV Police, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, Henderson Police and North Las Vegas Police -- all of them eliminated the wording years ago except Metro, which is in the process of doing so.

The TA is the only agency to not budge. Lewis says the hostility of the anti-gay policy is typical of the intolerance within the agency, not openly about sexual preference, but also race.

"You've had investigators calling drivers rag heads, sand n----rs. You've had officers being called n----r. The environment in the TA is awful. It's been brought to the chief investigators desk, and the administrator, and nothing has been done. Nothing," said a current TA officer.

"It's not just one single incident, it is a series of acts by the TA where they blatantly violate laws, people's civil rights, and are not held accountable to it," said Scott Lewis. "I personally was told by one of the field investigators whenever I was in my orientation, I was told watch out for these n----rs and it was made in reference to Officer James Dudley."

James Dudley is an African American who works as an airport control officer. He has filed a federal complaint about discriminatory practices within the TA. Over the weekend, he learned he is under investigation by the TA for allegedly misusing a copy machine.

Late Monday, the TA informed the I-Team it approved a new policy manual in June 2007 which does not contain the offensive verbiage about gays. But, at least four TA officers were given the offending manual long after the new policy supposedly went into effect. Plus, it appears that manual is for administrative workers, not for officers in the field. Even recent hires say the old manual is still the one being handed out to employees. Taxi board member Josh Miller says he plans to investigate.

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