Warrant issued for Uber driver accused of sexually assaulting passenger near UC Riverside

by BRIAN ROKOS | brokos@scng.com | The Press-Enterprise

PUBLISHED: May 23, 2017 at 11:43 am | UPDATED: May 24, 2017 at 7:16 am

A warrant was issued Tuesday afternoon, May 23, for the arrest of an Uber driver who UC Riverside police say sexually assaulted a female passenger near the UCR campus.

Jamaal Andrew Lee, 41, of Moreno Valley will face three felony charges when he is arrested, according to Riverside County Superior Court records: oral copulation by force or violence, assault with the intent to rape and false imprisonment.

Lee may be driving a white 2004 Ford Explorer with California license plate 6AOG427, UCR police said in a news release. Anyone who sees Lee is urged to call police.

In the wake of the attack, university officials are encouraging students who use ride-hailing services such as Uber to do so in groups.

The woman, who lives in a UCR apartment complex near campus, reported the assault at 2:47 a.m. May 14, according to a crime alert posted to the UCR Police Department website.

“UCPD suggests the following strategies when using these types of transportation services: When possible, utilize the service as a group. Let a trusted friend know where you are going and when you expect to return,” officials wrote in the alert.

The assault happened despite safety precautions that Uber says it takes, including conducting criminal background checks on its drivers and tracking drivers’ trips with GPS.

Uber spokesman Andrew Hasbun said Lee has been banned from working for the company.

“What the rider reported is appalling,” Hasbun said in an email.

Uber is one of several services in which freelance drivers set their own schedules and respond to requests for rides made through a smartphone app. These ride-sharing services face fewer regulations than traditional taxi companies.

UCR is among the top Inland destinations for Uber and competitor Lyft, according to lists supplied by the companies. Riverside City College also is high on the lists.

The alleged victim in this month’s assault had arranged for a ride from an off-campus location to the UCR Plaza Apartments at 1020 N. Linden St., said the UCR statement. Police did not say where the assault took place.

“Once it was reported to us, UCPD issued a timely warning to the campus community detailing this incident. UCPD investigators have contacted Uber, who is cooperating with our requests for information on this driver,” the statement said.

How Uber screens drivers

Uber contracts with a third party to conduct criminal background checks on driver applicants, who are required to furnish their full name, date of birth, Social Security number, driver’s license number and a copy of their driver’s license.

Applicants are ineligible to become Uber drivers if they have had more than three minor moving violations in the previous three years; have driven on a suspended or revoked license in the past three years; or had a conviction for driving under the influence or any felony, violent crime, sex offense or child abuse or endangerment in the past seven years.

Taxi companies, competitors of the ride-hailing services, say that’s not going far enough.

Would-be taxi drivers in California, unlike ride-hailing applicants, must be fingerprinted during background checks. Those prints, the taxi companies said in a lawsuit, make it easier to determine criminal records of applicants who lie about their names and backgrounds.

Uber officials have countered that their background checks are reliable.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of California taxi companies in 2015 and dismissed at their request in April 2017, accused Uber of false advertising for saying its rides are “safer than a taxi.”

Rider safety

Uber’s website describes how it believes the service’s technology helps keep riders safe.

When a driver accepts a request for a ride, the rider sees the driver’s first name, rating, photo and license plate number on the Uber phone app. That information can be checked against the driver who shows up. The app also will show the route, and the trips are tracked using GPS.

The website acknowledges some shortcomings.

Accidents and incidents will always happen. And when it comes to screening, every system has its flaws. That’s partly because past behavior may not accurately predict how people will behave in the future, but also due to the fact that no system in the U.S has a one hundred percent accurate record of the past,” Uber’s website says.