When Lyft driver Shawn Pepas Lettman picked up passenger Robert Ortiz, he figured that the $8 ride would be as uneventful as they usually were. But when things got heated in the car, the driver pressed a button on his phone and recorded the whole 16-minute tirade.
Lettman had already pulled over to the side of the road after an argument with his passengers over music started. Ortiz was sitting in the back seat of the Lyft car with two buddies and was on the phone with a dispatcher as he claimed: “I don’t want to hang up with you for my safety.”
**Continue Reading for Video at The End**
“I Feel Racially Profiled”
Whether Ortiz was having a bad night or not was anyone’s guess, although it very much seemed that way. After arguing with his driver about the style of the music playing in the car, the disgruntled passenger made a call to Lyft, telling the dispatcher: “I feel racially profiled … because I’m not black.” But the driver refused to change the music and that only escalated matters further.
At one point, the three men in the back, who all happened to be gay, asked the driver if he was refusing to change the music because of their sexual orientation. “He knows he’s f**ked up,” one of the passengers said about Lettman. But matters descended even further when the driver started recording what was going on in the back of his car.
Against the Law
What follows is a tirade of epithets against the driver and a complaint that the man is, as the belligerent passenger puts it, “recording him without his permission.” He even references New York State Law. Meanwhile, Lettman watches on stoically as Ortiz contacts the police and states that he is “fearful for his life.”
As the video continues, Ortiz continues to lob threats and open insults at the beleaguered driver. “I’m gonna make sure while you’re recording this that you never have a job as a Lyft driver ever again,” Ortiz told him, threatening, “I’m going to make sure that you never have a job as a f**king driver again. You piece of s**t.”
Video Part 1
The argument was a strange one in the first place as Ortiz claimed that the driver was refusing to change the music because he wasn’t black.
Not satisfied with the answers he was getting from the driver, Ortiz hung up the call with Lyft and decided instead to dial 911. He told Lettman that he intended to wait for the police to arrive and would not be paying for his fare. “I’m telling you that I called the police to protect myself because I know my legal rights as an American citizen,” he said according to a Newsweek report.
Turn For The Worse
After about 10 minutes of arguing and name calling, matters took a serious turn for the worse when Ortiz started using the N-word against the black driver. At one point, Ortiz called a friend on Facetime, saying: “Tell me why I’m in a Lyft, and the n***a f***ing pulled over … We’re waiting for the police because this f****t charged me,” he said.
Lyft did what they had to do by initiating an investigation into the incident. At the time, they deactivated both the Lyft accounts of Ortiz and Lettman until they had carried out a full review. Having reached their conclusions, Lyft sided with their driver, reactivating his account and deleting Ortiz’s account forever. But a story like this was bound to make it’s way to the mainstream media, and it did.
Ortiz then begins to threaten the driver even more by claiming that he will “Make sure that you never have a job as a driver again.” Ortiz continues to use race and sexual orientation as weapons in his argument arsenal. He also threatens litigation against the driver for the $8.01 he is now out of as a result of the asinine situation.
Video Part 2
After about 10 minutes of arguing and name calling, matters took a serious turn for the worse when he got on the phone with Lyft customer service. He told the dispatcher on the end of the line, “I came out of a gay club, and your driver is racist against gay people.” Ortiz got racism and sexism mixed up in his head, and that of course only confuses the issue further.
Lyft did what they had to do by initiating an investigation into the incident. At the time, they deactivated both the Lyft accounts of Ortiz and Lettman until they had carried out a full review. Having reached their conclusions, Lyft sided with their driver, reactivating his account and deleting Ortiz’s account forever. But a story like this was bound to make its way to the mainstream media, and it did.
Before long, Lyft issued an official statement on the incident saying: “The behavior exhibited in the video is deeply concerning. Lyft is committed to maintaining an inclusive and welcoming community, and discriminatory behavior is unacceptable,” they stated. “We have also reached out to Mr. Lettman to express our support.” Lettman also had some choice words for the people who supported him over social media.
Ortiz was accusing the driver the whole time of recording him illegally, not knowing that New York is what’s known as a “one-party consent” state. That means that only one person in a conversation needs to give consent to be recorded. Lettman remained completely silent throughout the incident, apart from at one point when he said: “Could I say one thing? There’s a sign right there that says you will be recorded.”
Lettman was applauded by supporters as well as by Lyft for remaining so calm in the face of such abuse. On a GoFundMe page that was opened for the Lyft driver after the incident, he gave all the credit to his mother who he claimed taught him that “patience, humble and calm will get you through anything.” And in this case, it did, even though Lettman did make a call to the police himself just after the incident to err on the side of caution.
Video Part 3
Even after almost ten minutes in the car, the belligerent passenger still insists that he isn’t leaving the vehicle, even after his inebriated friends have. Ortiz firmly believes that he is being discriminated against because of his sexual preference. After that, Ortiz Facetimes a friend about his “predicament” and even uses the N-word to describe Lettman.
World is Good
Lettman seemed to have no hard feelings after the incident and decided instead to make the best of it and to learn a lesson. “I know America is better than this and despite the hate, we have to deal with from a few, my heart tells me, the world is mostly good,” Lettman wrote. Meanwhile, many social media users expressed their extreme outrage at the way Ortiz had behaved towards his Lyft driver.
As a result of the incident, the firm which employed Ortiz at the time, CityMD, came under pressure to do something about their employee’s outburst. The company wrote on their Facebook page that that did not “condone this kind of behavior in any way,” adding, “CityMD exists to build healthier and kinder communities. This behavior does not represent the values of our team or the values we hold dear.” Ortiz was promptly fired from his job.
While Ortiz can be seen on the video telling Lettman he would make his night a “living hell,” he also mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement in relation to the driver. “I bet you if I was black – and Black Lives Matter,” he said, “he would have put the music on. F*** Black Lives Matter – every life matters … all I asked for was music.” As things ended up, Lettman was reinstated to Lyft while Ortiz was banned from ever ordering a car from the service again.
Lettman and Ortiz continued to argue over whether or not Ortiz had the right to record him in the first place. Ortiz also continues to state that he will not leave the car until police arrive on the scene and then proceeds to unleash more insults and threats to the absolutely exasperated driver.
Video Part 4
In this final clip, we can see that despite the racism, threats, slander, and accusations, Lettman remained calm. Even in the face of Ortiz’ obstinance and refusal to leave at his friends’ suggestions. Ortiz was doing everything he could to get Lettman riled and the determined driver still maintained his cool until after his passengers had left.
“When my mother died,” he wrote, “she taught me a very important lesson, which was always useful but more now than ever. She taught patience, humble and calm will get you through anything. As a father of two, my single means of providing for my wife and children is driving a rideshare, accommodating people from all walks of life. All of which I treat with the utmost respect, after all, I must provide for my family.”
Having raised more than $26,000 from the GoFundMe campaign, Lettman was asked how he managed to remain so cool and collected during the altercation with Ortiz. “I wanted to defuse the narrative that all black men are aggressive and violent,” Lettman said. “Some of us we are actually capable of performing in an intelligent setting… It’s not always worth it to use your fists.”
As well as not winning the case against Lettman, Ortiz has had to change his phone number as he has received so many hate calls from people calling him a racist. In a display of humility though, Ortiz has come out and publicly apologized for his racist tirade, accepting that it was “unjustifiable.” He claims that he had been drinking to excess that night and was simply drunk at the time of the incident.
Ortiz reached out to Pix11 News, telling them: “At the end of the day, my actions were unjustifiable. There’s nothing that I can say behind that to say ‘But this.’ I was drinking. A lot of the stuff that I said I didn’t even remember until the next day,” he said. Ortiz also claimed that he just wanted people to understand that he was not a racist.
Ortiz added that he was raised in the projects and was himself Puerto Rican. “That’s not how I was raised to treat people,” he said. “I grew up in the projects, so I just wanna make sure that people understand that I’m not racist – I’m Puerto Rican, I’m from the Bronx, I’m gay.” But the damage was already done and had been squarely caught on video for all to see.
For his part, Ortiz told reporters that he simply wants to move from this incident and live his life. “I just want to go on with my life. I’m not racist; my actions were completely wrong. I wouldn’t want anyone to speak to the way that I spoke to him,” he said, concluding with a direct apology to the Lyft driver, Ortiz said: “The only thing that I can say is that I’m sorry.”