Denver Uber shooting, other incidents raise questions about company's safety policies

Uber prohibits drivers, riders from carrying guns
Posted at 4:05 PM, Jun 01, 2018

DENVER – The Denver Uber driver who is accused of shooting and killing one of his passengers early Friday morning has had his access to the app revoked, the company says, but he never should have had a gun in the vehicle in the first place, per company policy.

Uber confirmed Thursday afternoon that Michael A. Hancock, 29, who faces investigation on a first-degree murder charge for the shooting, had access to the app for nearly three years before Friday’s shooting and that the shooting appears to have occurred during an on-app trip.

But Uber has a firearms prohibition policy, which states that “Uber prohibits riders and drivers from carrying firearms of any kind in a vehicle while using our app (to the extant applicable by law).”

“Anyone who violates this policy may lose access to Uber,” the company’s policy, which is part of its community guidelines, states.

“We are deeply troubled by the events in Denver today,” an Uber spokesperson told Denver7 Friday.

Hancock has a history of traffic infractions in Colorado in recent years, and he was charged with driving under restraint and a speeding infraction on April 21 in Douglas County, according to state court records.

Friday’s shooting is the latest of several incidents in Colorado involving the ridesharing company in recent years.

In 2015, Colorado regulators re-examined the background check process that Uber and other ridesharing companies use after one Uber driver was accused of trying to burglarize a Denver passenger's home  and another Uber driver was accused of sexually assaulting a passenger in Denver.

A Contact7 investigation in May exposed at least 20 incidents over the past four years where Colorado drivers or passengers were accused of making unwanted sexual advances while using a ridesharing service.

However, of those cases, only two led to arrest warrants or criminal charges, according to court filings. Both cases were brought against drivers. The remaining cases were either dismissed or never pursued because of a lack of evidence or victim cooperation.

Last July, Uber launched a campaign to warn prospective passengers of fake drivers after at least two people were caught impersonating company drivers.

And later that year, in November, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission levied an initial fine of $8.9 million on Uber’s parent company after the PUC found there were 57 drivers in the state who were driving when they weren’t supposed to be.

But the PUC cut the fine in half after the company protested that many of the violations didn’t apply legally. The PUC ended up dismissing about half of its violations.

And earlier this year, a University of Denver professor claimed an Uber driver wouldn’t let her out of the car on a trip to the airport. She never filed a police report, however. The company said at the time it had blocked the driver involved from the app and that it was investigating.

Despite the incidents and infractions, Friday’s shooting death was one of few fatalities that have occurred solely because of violence involving an Uber ride.

A Michigan driver shot and killed six people in 2016, prompting further investigations nationwide into the company's background check system.

Last May, a man driving for Uber who once attended the University of Colorado was allegedly murdered by a teenage passenger with a machete in Illinois.

In August, a Florida man died after he was punched by his Uber driver. And in November, another Florida man attacked his Uber driver, who ended up shooting the man in self-defense.

The company announced in April it was piloting an in-app 911 service in Denver and that it had strengthened its background check system. At the time, it also announced that former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was taking over as the chair of the company’s safety advisory board.

But some have still said that's not enough. A Bloomberg op-ed published May 1 in the Chicago Tribune said Uber needs to do more to report data on violent incidents involving its drivers. According to Uber's website, private parties need to subpoena the company for data requests.

“Our thoughts are with the families of those involved,” an Uber spokesperson told Denver7 Friday in response to the latest shooting in Denver.