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Avtar Singh sat on a curb next to a small pool of his own vomit in front of the Bayfront Hilton at 2 a.m. on December 20, 2013. Blood trickled onto his chin from his lip. The knot on his forehead grew hard and pulsated. He looked at the shattered driver’s side window of his cab and worried how his boss would react. He never saw the punch coming. He only heard the glass crack and felt his head snap back. From the curb, Singh tried to make sense of not only the first punch but also the several thrown after.

He looked across the driveway where Harbor Police officers interviewed 24-year-old Navy SEAL, Kyle Blackwell. Singh had picked Blackwell and his fiancee up at the Shout House in the Gaslamp a few minutes before closing time.

The seven-minute ride to the hotel was quiet. Singh and Blackwell’s fiancee Jennifer Reynolds spoke only a few words. After arriving at the hotel, Singh told the couple they owed him $11.20 for the ride. Reynolds gave him a $20 and told him to keep the change. She exited the cab and walked toward the parking garage elevator. Singh looked down at his iPhone while he waited for Blackwell, who sat directly behind him, to exit. He heard Blackwell shifting around in the back seat. The car door finally closed. Moments later, he noticed Blackwell standing outside his window, which had been rolled down three inches. That’s when the first punch came, breaking the top of the window and stopping at his forehead.

Broken cab window

Dressed in his Navy blues, Blackwell told officers that he had accidentally closed the cab door too hard, causing the rear window —not the driver’s window as was the case — to shatter. According to his statement to police, he said Singh started to yell and jumped from the cab. Blackwell feared Singh was from Iraq or Afghanistan, quite possibly “a Muslim extremist and wasn’t sure what he was capable of.” He told his fiancée to run and headed for the parking garage elevator. Singh chased after them. Added Blackwell, “I’m a Navy SEAL and part of SEAL Team 5. If I wanted to hurt him, I could have real easily. I just wanted him to back off. I felt threatened by his behavior and was in fear for my life.”

Bump on Singh’s forehead

Singh described Blackwell’s actions as a drunken rampage. According to his statement, after the punch the 33-year-old cab driver from northern India exited his cab. He told Blackwell that he needed to pay to fix the window. Blackwell, not saying a word, threw another punch, this time hitting him on his bottom lip. The Navy SEAL walked away. Singh followed and continued to yell at Blackwell to pay for his window. As they made their way toward the elevator inside the Hilton’s parking garage, Singh called the police. Singh blocked the door to prevent the elevator door from closing. Blackwell punched him twice in the mouth. He fell back. His lip exploded. Blood gushed into his mouth. Blackwell grabbed Singh’s iPhone and threw it down. Singh grabbed it and redialed 911. Blackwell and his fiancée exited the elevator and walked toward the stairs. Singh chased after them. On the phone with a police dispatcher, Singh stopped midsentence to yell at Blackwell for breaking his window. Blackwell grabbed the phone again and threw it, this time out of the parking garage. Blackwell hit Singh again. He and Reynolds exited the stairs on the fourth floor where security guards stood waiting.

Alfred Banks, also a cab driver, had witnessed the altercation while dropping off a fare and alerted security guards.

Banks later told officers that he saw Blackwell and his girlfriend wanting to get into the elevator. Singh was on his phone blocking the door from closing. He then saw “Blackwell punch Singh in the face approximately six times.”

After interviewing the witnesses, officers tried to negotiate a deal between the cab driver and the Navy SEAL. They asked Singh to take money for his window and let Blackwell and Reynolds go on their way. “They asked that I not make trouble and wanted me to do the right thing for a serviceman,” Singh said in statement.

He didn’t want to forget. He wanted Blackwell to pay, not only for the window but also for his brand new iPhone that he and police officers were unable to find. Singh wanted Blackwell to pay for his actions.

San Diego Harbor Police, however, decided not to arrest Blackwell, because they had not been present to witness the alleged violations first-hand. Officer Jose Torres, one of two reporting officers, had other doubts. Despite Singh’s statement, the location of the knot on his head, and Blackwell’s admission that he broke the car window (albeit the rear window), Torres felt the window shattered from the inside, meaning it was possibly Singh and not Blackwell that threw the initial punch.

Still looking for justice and assurance his window would get fixed, Singh declared a citizen’s arrest against Blackwell. Officers issued a citation against the Navy SEAL for two misdemeanor counts of simple battery. Blackwell was to appear in court on February 26, 2014.

The next day, before getting his window replaced, Singh went to Harbor Police headquarters to get a copy of the police report. As he waited at the body shop, lips still swollen and the knot on his head visible, he read the conflicting versions from Blackwell and Reynolds, as well as the officer’s opinion that he had possibly thrown the first punch from inside the cab.

To Singh, the whole thing reeked of favoritism — a Navy SEAL over an immigrant cab driver. It contradicted everything Singh had learned while studying to become a U.S. citizen in 2004. This type of favoritism was not foreign to him, much worse happens where he is from. He was stunned the same could happen in America.

Hours later, Singh’s taxi had a new window and his wallet was $150 lighter.

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Comments

Robert Hagen Dec. 26, 2014 @ 4:41 p.m.

I say that it is a low blow to bring up this case on Christmas. It disappoints me greatly to question your journalistic premise, but as a member of the Fourth Estate would say - the facts are quite clear.

Your glaring suggestion that the subject in question was somehow crazy (Taxi Driver) combined with an account lacking reportage as to motive

on Christmas.

If you are so certain as to the facts, then spell them out. You get paid to do that. The only actual news that I can glean from your choice for a Christmas cover story is that I should beware of the authenticity and or propriety of your future reports.

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Ponzi Dec. 27, 2014 @ 7:27 a.m.

Why wasn't Blackwell arrested for public intoxication? The police permitted an angry, violent, drunk to go on his way? Any other person would have been arrested or at least dropped off at detox.

If this case went to court and I were on the jury, I would take the story of a sober taxi driver over that of a drunken sailor. Singh should sue Jan Goldsmith. The only way it seems to get that sleazy toupée wearing buffoon out of office is for people to use the courts.

1

MichaelValentine Dec. 29, 2014 @ 9:25 p.m.

Will the City Attorney's office cost the city more money in this lash up? Stay tuned.

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AlexClarke Dec. 30, 2014 @ 3:13 p.m.

How do you hit someone with your fist through a 3" open window? Oh, maybe this Marine was from the show "Little People" no that can't be because he would not have been able to reach the window.

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philosopher3000 Jan. 3, 2015 @ 6:30 a.m.

There are plenty of things that don't quite make sense here. It happened over a year ago, so the gaps in the story should have been cleared up.

My question is this, if a Navy SEAL punched this guy in the face 6 times in a hotel lobby, and split his lip, why didn't he take a picture of the massive destruction on his lower face? Why not use the hotel video? Why only a picture of a bump on his head? I've fought SEALs they are fast and strong, they tend not to pull punches. That window should be broken out and the guy would likely be dead. So, if this is real, why not use the pictures and hospital medical report to sue for damages?

And, if the assassin who throws iPhones would just comment on why he offered to pay for something he didn't do?

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Dorian Hargrove Jan. 3, 2015 @ 1:22 p.m.

Philosopher3000: The gaps in time were addressed. Court hearings were rescheduled. Also, the decision to dismiss the case didn't occur until August 2013. The attorney had to wait for the Navy to reject the complaint before filing the federal lawsuit. That lawsuit was filed on December 26.

As for your other questions, the alleged assault did not occur in the lobby. There are pictures of his lip, they were not used in the story. The attorney said there was not any security footage.

Mr. Blackwell's attorney chose to comment for his client. He did not specifically address why he decided to pay for the window. Thanks-dH

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