On April 30, a 31-year-old New York woman took an Uber home around 2:30 a.m. from her DJ gig on the Lower East Side. The woman, who we’re not identifying by name, says she fell asleep in the car and awoke to find her driver caressing her face. The woman says the driver then jumped in the back of the car and tried to kiss her before she managed to escape. You’ll be reassured to know it’s only taken the NYPD and Uber a little under a week to get the driver’s full name and maybe start looking for him.
The Uber customer—who has also spoken to Gothamist, in a story they published on Friday—says she called an Uber Black. The car that pulled up was a large black Chevy Suburban with tinted windows (“I was confused at first,” the woman says. “It was huge. It looked like a celebrity’s car”).
The driver, whose first name was Muhammad, chatted with her briefly. He told her he was from Pakistan, and asked where she was from. The woman was sitting in the back seat on the passenger’s side. After just a few minutes, she fell asleep. “I had a long day, I was tired,” she says. “The next thing I know, I wake up to someone caressing my face from the front seat.”
The woman was confused and disoriented, she says. As she tried to wake up: “Next thing I know he gets out of the car, jumps in the backseat, grabs my shoulder and attempts to rub them. I tell him, ‘That’s enough.’ When I try to push him away he grabs my face to go in for a kiss. I just lost it. That’s when I really wake up.”
The car doors were unlocked; the woman says she managed to grab her things and jump out of the car. They were parked right outside her home. “He knows where I live now and he has my phone number.”
The woman was “hysterical,” she says. She told her boyfriend what had happened, but at first resisted calling the police. “At first I didn’t want to do anything. It sucks that my initial thought was that it was my fault. I felt embarrassed and ashamed that I fell asleep. That I shouldn’t have been out late. That I shouldn’t have had those two drinks. But he encouraged me to put the word out.”
The woman filed a police report in New York’s tenth precinct on the Lower East Side. The case has been moved to her home precinct, which we won’t identify. She also contacted Uber as well as the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, which licenses Uber drivers in New York City.
Although she’d understood that her case was being investigated as a sexual assault, the NYPD’s public information office tell us it’s currently being investigated as harassment. An NYPD spokesperson tell us, “The most serious thing that the complainant did describe as happening is he grabbed her shoulders and touched her face and attempted to kiss her. It’s still classified as harassment. Unless he’d touched her or fondled her in some private part—her breasts or her private area. Then it would be like a forcible touching.” (The NYPD says the woman was asked if she was “forcibly touched or fondled” by the driver and that she responded that she hadn’t; the woman says she absolutely told multiple police officers that the driver had grabbed her and tried to kiss her, which certainly does sound like forcible touching, which under New York law means touching the “sexual or other intimate parts of another person” to degrade or abuse them, or to satisfy their own sexual desire.)
On the same day, the woman spoke with someone from Uber’s support team, who she said was empathetic and called her back several times, but was vague about what the company actually planned to do about the incident. She was told that Muhammad would immediately be locked out of using the app (not fired; Uber drivers are not employees, but independent contractor “driver-partners”).
But days went by without Uber and the NYPD sharing information in a way that would have allowed the police to identify Muhammad or interview him. It took until May 5—six days after the incident happened and was reported—for the police to get that information. The NYPD’s public information officer told Jezebel today they are “still trying to identify the driver.”
In response to a request for comment, an Uber spokesperson, Matthew Wing, sent Jezebel the following statement and timeline of the company’s actions. Wing says, “Uber is taking this matter very seriously. As soon the incident was reported to us we removed the driver from the platform and we have provided the NYPD with all the information they requested.”
Here’s the timeline he provided:
On Thursday morning April 30th, a rider wrote in about an incident involving an UberBLACK driver-partner.
The driver-partner in question was licensed by the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission and had passed the TLC background check.
Upon learning of the incident, Uber immediately suspended the driver from the Uber platform and contacted the rider.
We advised the rider to file a complaint with the TLC and she reported to us that she did. We also provided trip information to the TLC for the time period the incident took place.
We spoke with the NYPD on Friday May 1st and advised them on the process for requesting private information for driver.
Yesterday the NYPD submitted a request for information, including the driver’s information, and we quickly provided everything requested.
Uber didn’t immediately provide the NYPD with the driver’s last name or license plate number because, per their law enforcement guidelines, they only provide information to police in response to a subpoena. The NYPD, according to Uber, didn’t put in their “request for information”—meaning a subpoena—until May 5. Uber also has an “Emergency Request Form” that law enforcement can presumably use to try to get that information more quickly, but it’s not clear if the NYPD tried that avenue here.
The NYPD said the investigation is ongoing; the driver has yet to be found. In the meantime, it’s also unclear if the driver, who is, again, licensed by the TLC, could be taking other passengers. Allan Fromberg, a spokesperson for the commission, tells Jezebel:
I am familiar with the situation, and yes, we are actively investigating. I apologize in advance for any inconvenience this may cause, but as this is an ongoing investigation, it would be inappropriate for me or any representative of the agency to discuss it in any level of detail. Also, while I have no reason to doubt that you are in fact in touch with the complainant, It would also be inappropriate to say anything that could potentially have the effect of inadvertently confirming a complainant’s identity. All that having been said, I will say that you are correct in that all drivers of vehicles affiliated with Uber bases must hold an FHV (For-Hire Vehicle) license, and that I am pleased to be able to report that we have made positive progress in the investigation.
The TLC maintains a list of all for-hire vehicle licensees. But more than 200 FHV licensees have the first name Muhammad. If the driver was using his real first name on his Uber profile, and not, say, a nickname or a middle name, the TLC or the police would still need his license number to identify him, which they couldn’t get without subpoenaing Uber.
We asked Fromberg if it’s possible the driver could still be taking other passengers; he said he couldn’t comment on whether the driver’s FHV license has been suspended or if he holds other active licenses or permits in New York.
When you take a yellow cab in New York City, the receipt lists both a “hack” number and a “license” number; you can look up the license number and immediately locate the garage used by the cabbie, which, if you’re the police, would allow you to locate a driver very quickly.
Uber works a little differently. When you hail a ride, you’re given the driver’s first name, car make, and his or her license plate number. But the plate number disappears as soon as you get in the car, making it exceedingly difficult for any rider to track down her driver after the fact. Uber’s trip bases are listed on the woman’s receipt, but not Muhammad’s FHV number, which the woman could have used to find him. (Five of Uber’s six trip bases were temporarily closed by the city earlier this year after Uber declined to provide trip data to the TLC, including the bases listed on the woman’s receipt. They were reopened the same week.)
The upshot of Uber’s very admirable and stringent privacy policies is that her alleged assailant has the woman’s name, her phone number and her home address—while she has virtually nothing she could use to find him or point the NYPD in the right direction. (Correction, 5:30 p.m.: Matt Wing of Uber says that the driver wouldn’t have her phone number, since it goes through an anonymized system. He does have her home address and first name.)
The woman did save a screenshot of her receipt; this is what her driver looked like in his photo:
The woman says she immediately deleted the Uber app after saving the receipt. She doesn’t plan to use the service ever again, and she’d like her assailant to be found as quickly as possible.
“I don’t want any other person to go through this,” she says. “But it seems to happen so often. We’re letting these guys just drive around and take us home. He needs to be identified.”
Image via AP.
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