Fare Game

Why did Phoenix police let an armed and dangerous suspect climb into an unwitting cabdriver's back seat before they opened fire?

Sills says the cab was the best place to stop Davis because he would no longer be in the open.

"We're talking probably a matter of seconds here. And one of the things you have to consider here, knowing [Davis'] potential for violence, if they'd taken him out in the open, it would've exposed a lot more of the public. At least in the cab, there was a containment. There was a real containment in that cab. Out in the open, he could flee, he could pull a gun and start shooting whoever."

Phoenix City Councilman Phil Gordon also justifies the police's actions in the shooting. After Leyvas was injured, the cabdriver's niece appeared on a TV newscast, criticizing the police for putting her Uncle Frank in danger. Gordon wrote a letter to the editor defending the police.

"The critics are wrong to judge the police department before all the facts are known," Gordon wrote. "These officers are trained to quickly assess volatile situations and to make decisions that will minimize risk to innocent bystanders."

Now that all the facts are in, Gordon still doesn't think it's his place to second-guess the cops.

"I can imagine in the minds of the supervisors, to allow Troy Davis, with his history of violence, with a gun, with a captive, to get away, was not a desirable result," Gordon says. "I believe the police made the best decision under the circumstances."

Motel 6, also named in the lawsuit, blames the police for what happened to Leyvas. "When a SWAT team comes and takes over your property, I think you'd be hard-pressed to argue that we had any control over the situation," says Emmett Gossen, a spokesman for the chain. "We don't see what we could have done to prevent the police doing what they did. . . . We weren't the ones using the force. We weren't the ones out there with guns."

When Leyvas was interviewed at the hospital by Officer David Swearingin, the cop seemed surprised that the cabbie was angry.

"Mr. Leyvas was very irrate [sic] when I first contacted him and was short in his answers to me," Swearingin wrote in his report. "He told me he was 'pissed' because we--the Phoenix Police Department--had put him in this situation and he had been shot. He finally calmed down and we were able to discuss this incident."

Leyvas wasn't hurt badly. But he could have been. And that's why, even after a year, he's still pissed.

Leyvas is basically a conservative guy; he's never been in trouble and says he has always supported the police. He's a single father who still works 12 to 15 hours a day as a road supervisor for TLC Taxi, driving passengers around and handling other drivers' wrecks and breakdowns.

During an interview, Leyvas sits, arms folded across his chest, reluctant to talk about it again. Then he starts retelling the tale and his eyes go from cold glass to bewildered.

He can still smell the blood, he says. A week after the shooting, Leyvas got a call from the cops telling him he could pick up his personal effects from the cab, which had been impounded.

A detective wore a biohazard suit when police parked the car in a basement room at headquarters. Leyvas didn't even get air conditioning when he arrived. "You could smell the stench all the way out in the door," Leyvas says.

Leyvas had put his time and sweat into the car, a painstakingly restored 1984 Buick LeSabre. "I've been doing this 19 years, and I know what people expect from a cab and a cabdriver," Leyvas says. "A clean cab means good tips."

The windows of the Buick were broken, and the back seat was covered with Troy Davis' blood and brains. He hurriedly put his things in a paper bag and left, trying not to look in the back. "I'd seen enough," he says, shaking his head.

Leyvas' sister Lydia says the experience has marked her brother.
His anger has led him to take a very uncharacteristic step, she says--filing the lawsuit.

"In our family, we're not the suing type; this is not how we usually handle things," she says.

But to her, it's clear that the police were wrong.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that he was in harm's way," Lydia says. "I truly believe they thought he was dispensable at that point. They didn't take the proper precautions to protect him or anyone else in that situation."

Though he was back to work a day after the incident, he contends he's never gotten over it. He says he still gets nightmares and flashbacks. The incident replays in Leyvas' head when he picks up his fares, "especially if I go into a parking lot, and if someone pulls out between the cars," he says.

Leyvas says he pushed his 7-year-old daughter, Ramona, away from him, leaving her with family while he slept in motel rooms and cabs for two months.

"I was a real asshole, in plain language," he says. "People couldn't stand me. I would take it out on friends, take it out on dispatchers, take it out on customers."

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