Seattle Uber, Lyft drivers investigated for sexual assault

by: Amy Clancy Updated:

Passengers are doing the right thing by not driving drunk.

However, more and more women who use Uber and Lyft services after a night out claim that their drivers sexually assaulted them.

KIRO 7's Amy Clancy noticed a growing trend as she dug through crime reports over recent months that multiple ride-share drivers are being investigated for rape.

After months of investigating, Clancy interviewed an alleged victim who was willing to share her story.  

“He violated me, and he traumatized me,” the 23-year old told Clancy. The Seattle resident didn’t want her identity revealed, but did want her story told because she doesn’t want “it to happen to more women. That would be the most painful thing.”

 

The woman said she felt “kidnapped and taken advantage of” the night she went to the Q nightclub on Broadway in Seattle to celebrate her birthday in March 2015. She admitted that she had way too much to drink that night and, expecting to be taken home, she got into a car driven by Uber employee Dereje Kebede.

“I blacked out, and then woke up in a motel in another city, with my clothes tangled,” she said, through tears.

According to documents filed in King County Superior Court, the 40-year old Kebede drove her to the Knights Inn in Tukwila and sexually assaulted her.

She remembered asking Kebede, “Did we have sex? And he’s like, ‘Yes, we had sex, Yes, we had sex.’”

However, the woman said she never consented to any sexual activity because she was passed out until the next morning.

Seattle and Tukwila police investigated and, even though the woman maintains that she was raped, the King County Prosecutor’s Office charged Kebede with attempted rape.

During police interviews detailed in investigative documents, Kebede told detectives that "at least once a month" female passengers "have sex" with him.

That admission angered the woman whom Clancy interviewed.  

“It pretty much indicated that he’s done it before, and he thinks he’s done nothing wrong,” she said.

Another ride-share driver, Sayfudin Ahmed, also claims that he did nothing wrong.

Sayfudin Ahmed
© 2017 Cox Media Group.

The Seattle man is charged with sexually assaulting a woman while driving for Uber, and with sexually assaulting another woman while driving for Lyft.  

KIRO 7 caught up with Ahmed after a recent court appearance in Seattle for both criminal charges.

"Did you sexually assault these women?" Clancy asked.

“No,” Ahmed said.

"Both of them said that you did," Clancy said. "Are they lying?"

“Yeah, I didn’t do anything," Ahmed said. "I didn’t do anything wrong.”

The Seattle Police Department has investigated at least five alleged sexual assaults by Uber and Lyft drivers in the past year. While Kebede and Ahmed have been charged with felonies and fired from their ride-share jobs, two other Uber drivers are still being investigated and may still be driving passengers.

The identity of one of the drivers is a mystery.  

According to police documents, all investigators know is that he works for Uber under the single name of "Mussa."    

A warrant has been filed to learn his full identity. His alleged victim told Seattle police that she was "punched in the head" by her Uber driver after meeting her adult daughter at the Wedgewood Broiler in February. The woman said she has a memory “of being on the ground with the Uber driver on top of her" and “her next memory was being thrown from the car in front of or near her house.”  

The next morning, “her face was heavily bruised, her tooth hurt and she had a pain in her vagina,” according to the police report. The woman was treated for her injuries at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where she was also given a sexual assault exam.  

In all five assault cases that KIRO 7 uncovered while looking through police reports, the alleged victims were alone and very drunk.

Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center said “we’ve been hearing this too” and that the advocacy center in Renton has “a handful of cases that we’ve been involved with where people, women, have been raped by Uber drivers.”  

Stone told KIRO 7 that the allegations against ride-share drivers don’t surprise her. Neither do at least two of their claims that they did nothing wrong.  

“It’s the same theme: ‘No, this wasn’t rape, this was consent, this was free choice,’” Stone said. But she said forcing somebody to have sexual contact when they are incapacitated is against the law. “If the person was intoxicated, they’re not in a position to make that kind of decision,” she told Clancy.

Stone also said the crime of rape is already under-reported. She believes that alcohol use may discourage even more women from reporting an attack because details of the assault may be fuzzy, or the victims may blame themselves.  

“It’s easy, especially in alcohol-facilitated situations, to feel like it was my fault. It’s also understandable to say, 'I don’t quite remember what happened, I don’t know what happened, this is what I think happened,'” Stone said. “We want to encourage people to come forward. They don’t have to have the whole story.”

Uber and Lyft declined to be interviewed by KIRO 7 when asked about the multiple investigations against drivers.  

However, both companies are cooperating with investigators, according to Scott Hatzbeuhler of the Seattle Police Department.  

Logo for Lyft (left), Uber (right)
© 2017 Cox Media Group.

The sexual assault detective confirmed that the SPD is seeing more cases of Uber and Lyft drivers investigated for sexual assault in recent months. But he also said that “prior to the increase in ride share services, we were getting cases of taxicab” drivers suspected of sexually assaulting female passengers.  

Hatzbeuhler believes that the apparent increase in ride-share assaults is most likely because more people are using the services of ride-share companies.

Both Hatzbeuhler and Stone believe that the risk for sexual assault appears to be greatest for women who use Uber and Lyft while alone and drunk.

KIRO 7 saw plenty of examples on a weekend night of women leaving Seattle bars at closing time, climbing into ride-share cars by themselves while apparently intoxicated.

Uber and Lyft conduct background checks on drivers.

However, the alleged victim whom KIRO 7 interviewed believes that background checks are no guarantee of safety. “Just because he doesn’t have a record, and I’m assuming the guy who did this to me doesn’t, doesn’t mean that they’re not capable of hurting somebody,” she said. “He deserves to be put away. He deserves a consequence, a punishment. You don’t get to do this and get away with it.”

Statement from Lyft

"We have a strict zero-tolerance policy for violent behavior, and our thoughts are with the victim of this heinous crime.  As soon as we learned of this incident, we permanently deactivated the driver and worked closely with the authorities during their investigation.  

"The safety screenings that Lyft conducts on driver applicants are rigorous and thorough. All drivers who apply to drive on the Lyft platform undergo a criminal background check, a driving record check, a vehicle inspection and an in-person screening. Lyft uses SterlingBackcheck, a global company focused entirely on background checks, to conduct each applicant's criminal background check; this includes a query of local, state and federal databases."

Statement from Uber

"We take incidents involving the safety and well-being of riders and drivers very seriously, and our thoughts are with the victim of this horrendous act. Upon initial contact with law enforcement, these individuals were immediately denied access to Uber and no longer drive with the platform. We have been and will continue work closely with law enforcement to assist in their investigation and help ensure justice is served." -- Uber spokesperson

Additionally, Uber gave this information on background on how its technology enables the company to focus on rider safety before, during, and after every trip:

  • Removing anonymity: Unlike with taxis in the past, with Uber, trips are no longer anonymous. When a driver accepts your request, you see his or her first name, photo, and license plate number. You can contact the driver—and vice versa— through the app (via an anonymized number) if there is any confusion around pick-up details.
  • No more street hails or waiting outside to find a ride: You can start the Uber app from anywhere and wait safely for your car to arrive. That means no standing on the street for a street hail late at night.
  • Always on the map: All trips are tracked using GPS from beginning to end, which is a benefit to both riders and drivers.
  • 2-way ratings: Riders rate their experience and so do drivers, increasing accountability through feedback and ratings, which never existed in transportation before

For more information, please visit Uber.com/ride/safety