The issue has raised a simple question: Who should be allowed to drive cabs?
Henrico, Hanover and Chesterfield counties and the city of Richmond all share similar rules governing who can receive a taxi permit, a process handled by police. About 500 cab drivers operate in the region, and those licensed in one jurisdiction can drive anywhere in the area.
A lengthy section in Henrico's ordinance explains the grounds for refusing a permit. They include being convicted of, or pleading guilty to, a felony in the last three years; lying on the application; ever being convicted of a felony involving violence or selling drugs; or any felony conviction "which indicates to the chief of police that the applicant is of unfit or unworthy character."
"What we focus on is these crimes of moral turpitude," says John A. McLenagan, a spokesman for Chesterfield Police. "Typically, we're not very flexible" with crimes involving lying, cheating and stealing, he says. Chesterfield has received only five applications for taxi permits since the end of 2004, police say, two of which were denied because of criminal records.
Things were much busier in Henrico. Within the last 12 months, the county received 267 applications for taxicab permits, Assistant County Attorney James Moore III says. Of those, 47, or 18 percent, were denied by the police chief based on recommendations by the permit officer.
That's a significant increase in denials over previous years, Moore says. From August 2004 to July 2005, 11 percent of applications, or 18 out of 167, were denied. "We felt like we could do some tightening up of the overall process," Moore says.
Once denied, drivers have two opportunities to appeal. In the last 12 months of permit applications in Henrico, 11 people appealed their denials in administrative hearings, Moore says, in which their cases were heard by a designee of the police chief. That designee may take into account mitigating factors such as the length of time expired since a particular offense, and whether an individual has a good record as a cab driver.
For example, if someone with a 20-year-old larceny conviction who had since kept a clean record pleaded his or her case, "the likelihood was they would get a recommendation" of approval, Moore says.
Peyton says there are many mitigating factors in his particular case. He passed a polygraph to prove his innocence, a claim backed up by a letter from Peyton's domestic-violence counselor to his parole officer. He also says the case was thrown out the first time it came to court because the grand jury failed to come up with an indictment. Peyton says he hopes the truth about his innocence will come out one day.
Seven of the 11 permit applicants who appealed in Henrico in the last 12 months were granted them, Moore says, while two are pending and two were denied including Peyton.
When it came to getting his permit, Peyton pressed on. He took his case to the courts for a hearing, and the judge decided to grant the permit. Because Peyton had received no complaints or incidents during the three years he had his permit, Moore says, the judge ruled "that it simply wasn't fair to deny at this time."
The judge added, however, that had Peyton been trying to get his first-ever cab license, he would have deemed it appropriate to deny his permit.
"I'm just doing my job the way I'm supposed to do it," Peyton says. S