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New Orleans mayor's office says investigation contributed to firing of taxicab bureau chief

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NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans has fired the embattled head of its taxicab bureau.

The city made the announcement Friday evening in a three-sentence press release that did not explain why Malachi Hull, who had held the position since 2011, was terminated.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu's spokesman, Tyler Gamble, told NOLA.comThe Times-Picayune (http://bit.ly/1muttj7) that Landrieu asked city Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux to investigate the bureau after the arrests of several its inspectors.

"Recent events triggered the city to ask the OIG to review the department, and that the work of the OIG factored into this decision," Gamble said.

Quatrevaux couldn't immediately be reached Friday. Gamble said the investigation's report has not been publicly released.

Safety and Permits Department Director Jared Munster and Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Ava Rogers will run the bureau for now. It oversees for-hire vehicles and companies, tour guides and vehicle inspection stations.

Taxi drivers and tour guides have been calling for Hull's ouster for years after incidents resulted in arrests of inspectors on suspicions of fraud and assault.

Taxicab inspector Wilton Joiner was booked in November for allegedly assaulting Wendy Bosma, a tour guide with Haunted History Tours. Hull watched the incident unfold, but did not intervene.

Joiner, captured on video by the tourists in her group, pushed Bosma against a car and twisted her arm behind her back to pry her license from her fingers. Joiner was booked with simple battery and later fired. Bosma has sued the city.

Around that same time, taxicab inspector Ronnie Blake tried to handcuff cab driver Emmanuel Esterlin, then pepper-sprayed him when he resisted. Inspectors normally write citations for infractions. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro charged Blake with felony battery in May.

After Landrieu viewed a video of the incident, charges against Esterlin were dropped, Blake was suspended and later fired, and Hull was reprimanded "verbally and in writing for not responding adequately to inappropriate actions by employees," a city spokeswoman said in January.

Esterlin this week filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, Hull and other officials, the New Orleans Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1xwylGS).

Blake and United Cab Co. executive Donald "Cornbread" Juneau, were also arrested in April 2011 under suspicions that they were running an inspection sticker scam. City prosecutors never pressed charges.

Hull, a New Orleans native, had previously worked in a similar position in Atlanta.

Hull oversaw Landrieu's major changes to the requirements for cabs in New Orleans, including installing credit card machines, GPS devices and requiring all cabs be newer than seven years old.


Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

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