(UPDATE: Berglund has been "relieved of his duties while the company [Agroplasma] performs a full internal investigation," a marketing director for Agroplasma said. See more details below.)
A Tempe CEO's racist tirade against a black Uber driver and Arizona State University student is attracting international attention and has prompted the victim, Randy Clarke, to take action against the irate passenger.
It all began around 9 p.m. last Friday night, January 31, when Clarke, a senior at ASU who has been working as an Uber driver for years, accepted a ride request from Agroplasma CEO Hans Berglund.
Berglund became infuriated when Clarke asked him to sit in the back seat. Berglund initially refused to sit in the back seat, told Clarke to cancel the ride, but then got into the back seat and refused to leave when asked. He then accused Clarke of kicking him out because he is white and called Clarke a "fucking nigger."
Clarke has since gone public about the racist encounter, speaking with reporters at ABC15 and organizing a press conference, which is being held outside Tempe City Hall at 10:30 a.m. today.
Jarrett Maupin, a controversial local civil rights activist who is representing Clarke, sent a press release to reporters on Wednesday morning stating that he intends to release written complains to Tempe's Human Relations Commission and the Arizona Attorney General about the incident. Clarke is also seeking a meeting with Berglund and an apology for his actions.
As videos captured by Clarke's dashcams show, Berglund attempted to get into the front seat after Clarke pulled up.
"Mind sitting in the back?" Clarke immediately asks.
"No, yeah, I don't like to sit there," Berglund responds.
"I don't like when people sit in the front," Clarke says. There are several signs posted on Clarke's vehicle which state passengers can only sit in the front seat if there are parties of three or more — a policy Clarke began, with Uber's approval, after an intoxicated male passenger sitting in the front seat sexually assaulted him by grabbing his crotch in 2018.
"I cannot sit there?" Berglund asks again, still holding the front passenger door open and leaning in toward Clarke.
"I don't like when people sit in the front, I'm sorry," Clarke says, nervously waving his hands as he apologizes.
"Then I'll order something else," Berglund replies.
"Sounds good!" Clarke says, nodding and waving Berglund away.
Berglund tells Clarke to cancel the ride and backs away from the vehicle.
"Will do," Clarke nods. "Thank you."
"Are you fucking serious with me?" Berglund snaps, moving back toward the car and leaning in toward Clarke once again.
"No, I don't like when people sit in the front, period," Clarke says. "I'll cancel and refund you."
"Ok, let me do this," Berglund says. He slams the front passenger door shut, opens the back passenger door, and slides into Clarke's back seat. "I'm gonna ride in the back, and I'm gonna file a complaint, okay? I have the right to make my own options."
"I am an independent contractor and I have the right to deny this ride," Clarke says. "Please leave my vehicle."
Berglund refuses. Clarke asks Berglund to leave again.
"Honestly, I'm here!" Berglund says as he moves forward in his seat and leans in toward Clarke. "I'm sitting in your back seat!"
Clarke asks him again to leave the vehicle.
"Is that because I'm white?" Berglund asks.
"No sir, it's not because you're white," Clarke answers, shaking his head and suppressing a laugh.
"And you're a fucking nigger?" Berglund barks. "You're a fucking —" Berglund cuts himself off as he leans back, opens the rear passenger door and begins to exit the vehicle. "Unbelievable," Berglund says.
Clarke informs Berglund that he has two dashcams recording the interaction. "Screw you," Berglund says as he shakes his fist and exits the vehicle, slamming the door behind him.
Clarke drives away, talking to himself about the encounter, then calls Uber support to file a complaint.
Photos of a conversation between Clarke and Uber support shared with Phoenix New Times show Uber is investigating the incident and noted it on Berglund's account. ABC15, which was the first to report on Berglund's racist remarks, noted that Uber reached out to Clarke on Monday evening and told him Berglund's account has been temporarily placed on hold as the investigation is underway.
When contacted by New Times, Berglund said he had been advised by his attorney not to speak with reporters, but said that he had made a huge mistake and deeply regrets his actions.
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"I hate what happened, I hate what I said, I'm not a racist at all, whatsoever," Berglund told New Times, "I created a huge huge problem for me, my family, and my company, and it's absolutely awful how it's been blown up."
The press release issued by Maupin also states that Maupin will "seek aide from Arizona State University and Uber in protecting other student drivers of color from Berglund and other racists like him" by filing restraining orders against Berglund. "Uber should ban him from using their service for life," Maupin's press release states.
(UPDATE:) Shortly after this story was published, ABC15 published a follow up story on their original report on Berglund noting that he has been relieved of his duties. The full statement from Matt Brill, marketing director for Agroplasma, is below.
"In light of the events of this past Friday, Agroplasma CEO Hans Berglund has been relieved of his duties while the company performs a full internal investigation.
"The incident is not at all reflective of Agroplasma’s values and ethics. Our relationships with our employees, customers and the community are the cornerstones of our success, and we are doing everything in our power to rebuild their trust and repair the harm that has resulted from this incident.
"Jeffrey Ziehmer, who has been serving as Agroplasma’s General Manager, will assume the role of Interim CEO until further notice.
"We have no further comment at this time."