Conduct of bus driver alleged to be royal pain

August 03, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

It is obvious that you do not mess around with his royal highness, Prince Jaiyesimi, a member of the Ijede ruling family in Lagos, Nigeria.

That's what Gerry Gross, a Chicago Transit Authority bus driver who is not of royal birth, will soon be finding out.

Gross is one of the alleged villains in a $120 million federal lawsuit that Prince Jaiyesimi brought against the city of Chicago, the CTA and the Police Department because they hurt his royal feelings real bad.

In a news release distributed by Bayo Adeyemo, executive director of the Council on African Relations, the abuse to Prince Jaiyesimi is described:

"On Jan. 27, 1994, Prince Jaiyesimi tried to board a CTA bus at the corner of Berwyn and Broadway. After allowing two elderly white passengers to board ahead of him, Prince Jaiyesimi attempted to board the bus, but the driver, Gerald Gross, shut the door in his face and proceeded."

The prince chased the bus and got on at the next stop.

"He presented his transfer to the driver who informed him that the transfer had expired. Prince Jaiyesimi paid another fare of $1.50 and requested to know why the driver had refused to pick him up.

"The driver refused to explain and requested Prince Jaiyesimi to disembark from the bus. The prince refused, citing correctly his right to ride on the bus, having paid his fare.

"The driver threatened to call the police to 'arrest the prince and make sure that . . . [he] went to jail.' Other passengers pleaded with the bus driver to continue with the journey and let the prince ride. The bus driver called the police.

"Two police officers . . . arrived shortly thereafter and without any questions, arrested, handcuffed and jailed Prince Jaiyesimi for several hours before releasing him on his personal recognizance. A disorderly conduct charge filed against him was dismissed . . . on April 12, 1994.

"One witness referred to the bus driver as 'very arrogant.' He was among the three other passengers who were so shocked at the bus driver's treatment of Prince Jaiyesimi that they followed him to the police station. Another one said he was completely shocked at the way the undercover officers arrested the man without any questioning.

"Prince Jaiyesimi suffered injuries and damages, including, but not limited to, a severe nervous shock, physical and emotional injuries, great distress of body and mind, pain and suffering and post-traumatic syndrome.

"'The bus driver falsely and maliciously, without any probable or reasonable cause whatsoever, but with intent to injure the prince in his good reputation, and to bring him into public disgrace and scandal, and to cause him to be imprisoned and deprived of his liberty, accused and charged him with having committed disorderly conduct,' said Attorney Paul Otubusin, Prince Jaiyesimi's attorney."

The news release then quoted the prince, who is a research assistant at Northeastern Illinois University, as declaring: "That this can happen to an upstanding member of the society is all too indicative that the City of Chicago, the CTA and the Chicago Police Department need to clean house to ensure that their employees do not bring their biases to work and then behave in a manner not equitable to all residents of this city."

The Council on African Relations, which has an office in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, held a news conference to discuss the prince's humiliation and "other issues facing the African community."

Well, if the prince suffered these indignities, I can understand his hurt feelings. It's no lark to endure severe nervous shock, physical and emotional injuries, great distress of body and mind, pain and suffering and post-traumatic syndrome. That sounds worse than corns on your little toes.

But $120 million seems a bit steep, considering that the bus didn't even run over his foot and nobody hit him on the head.

Not to defend driver Gross, but there is nothing in the lawsuit to indicate that he knew the prince was a prince.

That could be a mitigating factor, since it has become almost a tradition in Chicago for bus drivers to be rude to passengers, passengers to drivers, drivers to motorists, passengers to passengers, whites to blacks, blacks to whites and any other abusive combination you can think of.

I don't know for sure, but it's possible that had the prince said to driver Gross, "Aha, you rude fellow, you toad, you clod, you happen to be speaking disrespectfully to his royal highness, Prince Jaiyesimi, a member of the Ijede ruling family in Lagos, Nigeria," Gross might have curtsied. Or at least accepted the aged transfer.

On the other hand, Gross might not have believed that the prince was really a prince. If you drive a Chicago Transit Authority bus long enough, you encounter people who claim they are Jesus, Elvis, or visitors from Mars. Usually turns out they aren't.

So unless the prince was wearing his traditional princely garb, with a few lovelies scattering flower petals in his path, how were a bus driver or cops to know they were dealing with royalty? If a stranger walked up and said, "I am Prince Jaiyesimi, of the Ijede ruling family in Lagos, Nigeria," how would you respond? Most Chicagoans would probably say, "Sorry, pal, I don't have any change."

Besides, what is a prince doing on a CTA bus anyway? You would think his royal family would have taught him better.

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