February 05, 2019
What was a confusing case from its December outset added another layer of uncertainty after a five-minute court hearing on Tuesday morning.
On Christmas Eve, a 19-year-old woman named Zuri Berry called for a Lyft to take her home from her neighborhood supermarket. What happened over the course of the next half hour left her behind bars – along with her father and a friend – for the bulk of Christmas Day.
Instead of being dropped off at her destination in Abbottsford Homes – practically across the street from the Fox Street ShopRite location in Northwest Philadelphia – she and the driver became involved in a heated verbal altercation.
Saying that she feared she was being kidnapped, Berry called her father, Curtis Easter, to alert him to what was going on. What ensued was a 20-minute ordeal that ended when the driver crashed a mile-and-a-half away.
At that scene, a scuffle broke out between Easter, family friend Curtis Brinkley and the driver that led to police charging Berry, Easter and Brinkley with aggravated assault, conspiracy and related offenses. Brinkley faces an additional charge of possession of an instrument of crime, police said.
The driver, whose interactions with Berry can be seen and heard in a pair of videos that the passenger later posted to YouTube, was not initially charged with anything in relation to the incident.
(Warning: The following videos contain profanity and racially charged language.)
On Tuesday morning, Berry and Brinkley were in Municipal Court Judge Nazario Jiminez Jr.’s courtroom at the Criminal Justice Center for what they thought would be their preliminary hearing in the case.
But Assistant District Attorney Lauren Crump and defense attorneys Evan Hughes and Jordan Freeman agreed to postpone the hearing for a month so the matter could be further investigated from the prosecutorial side.
When contacted by PhillyVoice in early January, a Lyft spokesperson said, “Due to conflicting reports, we believe there is more to the story than what appears in these videos.”
That theme continued today.
While a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office would not comment on what prompted the delay – a response that’s not specific to this case, but official policy, he said – Berry’s attorney offered an optimistic spin. In short, he wondered aloud whether they'll drop some, or all, charges in the case.
“It seems that they’re further investigating the decision to proceed as charged, and I think that's a very positive thing,” said Hughes in the hallway outside the courtroom. “I’m pleased to see them taking the time to make a thoughtful, informed decision before forcing three people to defend themselves in what could be a long drawn-out process.”
All three defendants are scheduled to appear before Jiminez for a preliminary hearing on March 4.