He got his license back, no thanks to police

Shawn Gill at the wheel of his 2014 Toyota Tacoma that he drove for Lyft and Uber until his license was suspended as a result of identity theft.

WHEN WE LEFT Shawn Gill in early October, he was stranded in his Warminster home, courtesy of the Philadelphia Police Department.

His driver's license was pulled because of an understandable police error. Once the error was revealed, however, Philly cops refused to take a simple step that would have quickly restored Gill's license.

Having a license is not merely a convenience for the 46-year-old Gill. He stays home to care for his autistic son and drives for Lyft and Uber to earn money when his son is in school or in bed.

Gill's nightmare began in the middle of a night - 2:25 a.m. May 20 - with a collision at Broad and Rockland Streets, where a 2004 Chevrolet Suburban rear-ended a 2014 Buick Verano, causing damage to the Buick and injury to its driver. The Suburban took off, but was quickly stopped.

Police questioned the Suburban driver, whose speech was slurred and whose face was flushed, according to the police report. He refused to take a Breathalyzer and was hostile with officers who took him to Einstein Medical Center, where he refused a blood-alcohol test.

In Pennsylvania, refusal to take that test results in loss of your driver's license.

When arrested on suspicion of DUI, the driver gave his name as Shawn Gill, who was sleeping in his bed 13 miles away. The imposter also had Gill's date of birth and address. Gill told me he has no idea how his personal information was stolen.

Hours later, after fingerprinting the driver, police learned he was actually David Joseph Singer, who was in the system for previous convictions for theft, burglary, aggravated assault and possession of instruments of crime. He has used aliases before.

Gill has no police record. He found out his identity was stolen when he got a call from Einstein asking how he was feeling after treatment. He quickly ascertained someone had passed himself off as him and filed identity-theft reports with the 35th District, where the crash happened, and where the paperwork originated. He also reported the situation to PennDot.

He thought, wrongly as it turned out, that should cover him.

On June 6, PennDOT notified him his license would be suspended for one year starting July 8 for failure to take the Breathalyzer test. Lyft and Uber dropped him as a driver.

Gill told me he called PennDOT several times, got different advice from different people, but couldn't get the mess straightened out.

He filed an appeal and was given a hearing on Sept. 14.

He showed up without a lawyer because he didn't think he needed one. By that time the wrong paperwork had been corrected to Singer's name. "It's like Traffic Court, I thought," Gill said.

That's when the stolen identity turned into mistaken identity.

First, the corrected paperwork had not reached Harrisburg. Worse, two cops - one from the Accident Investigation District and the other the arresting officer - testified that Gill had been behind the wheel. But that's impossible.

On the original paperwork, the belligerent driver was described as 5-7 and 320 pounds. Not mentioned in the report but very visible on Singer's mug shot is a very large tattoo covering his neck. Gill is 190 pounds and not inked.

It's hard to imagine two officers making an error that gross. Police declined to comment.

A totally befuddled Gill begged the judge for time to straighten this out. She gave him 30 days.

As I wrote on Oct. 3, Gill and his attorney - he has one now - could assemble all the documents to present to the judge, at some time and expense - or they could use a shortcut.

PennDOT community relations coordinator Alexis Campbell told me that if the officer who made the report wrote a letter on police stationery saying the identification of Gill was erroneous, PennDOT would wipe Gill's record clean.

So simple, but not something the Philadelphia Police Department - which created the mess for Gill - was willing to do. Police demanded that Gill first come in for an interview. Gill's lawyer advised him not to do it. Frankly, given the shabby treatment Gill received, I don't blame him. The cops know Gill had done nothing wrong and had no business attaching conditions to writing a letter to make things right.

The department's attitude is both baffling and disappointing. It set up a hurdle for Gill for no good reason.

Using the extra time offered by the judge, Gill assembled the documents and brought them in. Common Pleas Judge Nina Padilla Wright rescinded Gill's suspension a few days ago.

With his license restored, Gill now is planning to bring suit against the city for the earnings he lost while his license was suspended because of Police Department mistakes.

I hope he wins that money - and I hope the department gets slapped with punitive damages, too, to remind it there are consequences for getting things really wrong and being unwilling to repair them.

And somebody has to sit down with the two cops who unbelievably misidentified Gill in court.

Their ineptitude is a confidence-shaker.

stubyko@phillynews.com

@StuBykofsky Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky