Town Gave Taxi License to Driver With D.W.I. Record

Gerson Mancilla, shown here being led away from East Hampton Town Justice Court on Sunday after being arraigned on a felony driving while intoxicated charge, was able to obtain a taxi driver’s license from the town earlier this year, despite a previous felony conviction. T.E. McMorrow

A man who was arraigned in East Hampton Town Justice Court on Saturday on a felony charge of drunken driving had been issued a license to drive a taxi in the town earlier this year despite having two prior convictions for drunken driving, one of which was a felony. 

Gerson Mancilla, 41, of Springs did not appear to have been on the job when he was arrested. 

According to the town code, “Any conviction for a felony, or any conviction for a violation, of the state’s laws regarding drunken driving may act as a bar to the granting of a taxicab driver’s license.” The town strictly follows the state laws respecting licensing and drunken driving, the East Hampton Town attorney’s office insists. However, the town was unaware of Mr. Mancilla’s record when it granted him a license to drive for Rainbow Taxi earlier this year. 

“The town does not have any record of any felony conviction,” NancyLynne Thiele, a town attorney, said on Tuesday.

The fact that Mr. Mancilla had earlier drunken driving convictions only came to light during the reporting of this story, the felony charge against Mr. Mancilla having raised a red flag, indicating that police were aware of a previous D.W.I. conviction. 

The clerk’s office at the New York State criminal courts building in Riverside said on Tuesday that Mr. Mancilla was convicted of drunken driving as a felony in 2009 following a 2008 arrest. The clerk’s office at East Hampton Town Justice Court confirmed a misdemeanor conviction for Mr. Mancilla for driving while intoxicated in 2000, following a 1999 arrest by East Hampton Village police. 

It is unclear where the channels of communication broke down, keeping the town attorney’s office in the dark about Mr. Mancilla’s situation. 

Under an established procedure, the town attorney’s office vets taxi license applicants by obtaining records from the State Department of Motor Vehicles and also seeks information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The town attorneys recommend approval or denial, following state guidelines, as well as the town code. An applicant can appeal a denial recommendation in a hearing before the licensing board. 

According to the Justice Court, Mr. Mancilla has several moving violations on his recent record, as well, including one for speeding in a school zone. Shelter Island police last month ticketed him for driving while using a cellphone, and he was arrested in Southampton in 2011 for driving without an ignition-control device on his car, a requirement of one of his earlier D.W.I. convictions.

When it came time during Sunday’s arraignment for Justice Lisa R. Rana to set bail, she asked what Mr. Mancilla did for a living, and he told the court that he now drives for Uber, the popular car-hire service. However, a spokesperson for Uber, Susan Hendrick, said on Wednesday that the company had no record of him: “We don’t have any partners by that name who have ever taken a trip on the Uber app,” she wrote in an email.

The town no longer has control over who does or does not drive locally for Uber, Lyft, or other taxi alternatives, as town law governing ride-hailing app companies was superseded earlier this year when New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo placed the services under the purview of the Department of Motor Vehicles, taking it away from local governments. 

Mr. Mancilla’s latest arrest began a little after 4 a.m. on Sunday, when a patrol officer reported finding a 2007 Honda, engine running, transmission in park, with Mr. Mancilla slumped over behind the wheel on the road outside his Gardiner Avenue residence. After Mr. Mancilla performed poorly on roadside sobriety tests, according to the police, he was arrested and taken to headquarters in Wainscott, where he refused to take a breath test. 

He was arraigned in East Hampton town Justice Court later that morning, represented by Carl Irace, an attorney participating in a county-run program that ensures that all defendants have legal representation during weekend arraignments. 

When told that one of his jobs was driving for Uber, Justice Rana responded that that would be problematic, going forward, since his driver’s license has been suspended for the next year because he refused to take the breath test at headquarters. She set bail at $5,000, which was not immediately met. Mr. Mancilla spent Christmas Eve in county jail, before being let out on bail the following day.