Uber driver’s rape trial opens

Lans­dale man ac­cused of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing Ch­ester County woman while work­ing for ride-shar­ing ser­vice

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­[email protected]­tu­ry­media.com @Ch­escoCourtN­ews on Twit­ter

WEST CH­ESTER >> The na­tional con­cern over whether ride shar­ing pas­sen­gers are in dan­ger of crim­i­nal at­tacks will play it­self out in a Ch­ester County court­room this week, as a Lans­dale man goes on trial for sex­u­ally as­sault­ing a Ch­ester County woman while he was work­ing as an Uber driver.

A jury of eight women and four men hear­ing the case of de­fen­dant Ahmed Mostafa El­gaa­fary was cho­sen by the two sides be­fore Judge Patrick Car­mody, with none of the prospec­tive pan­elists say­ing dur­ing se­lec­tion that they had had any neg­a­tive in­ter­ac­tions with Uber driv­ers — and with some say­ing they had ei­ther worked for the ser­vice, had signed up to do so, or had rel­a­tives who had been driv­ers in the past.

El­gaa­fary is charged with rape of an un­con­scious per­son, in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sex­ual in­ter­course, sex­ual as­sault, and in­de­cent as­sault. If convicted, he faces a pos­si­ble term in state prison.

The al­le­ga­tions against El­gaa­fary, which he de­nies, are that he picked up a woman who had been gam­bling and drink­ing at the Val­ley Forge Casino in Up­per Me­rion, and as­saulted her af­ter she passed out in the back of his car.

Po­lice said in a crim­i­nal com­plaint that they were able to match his DNA with sam­ples taken from the woman dur­ing a phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion the morning af­ter the al­leged as­sault.

Ride shar­ing ser­vices such as Uber and Lyft have been strug­gling to deal with ac­cu­sa­tions that fe­male pas­sen­gers are the tar­gets of un­wanted at­ten­tion by their driv­ers, or in more ex­treme cases, the vic­tims of at­tacks. The sit­u­a­tions can range from ones in

which the pas­sen­gers feel un­com­fort­able with com­ments made to them by driv­ers about their ap­pear­ance or di­rectly per­sonal ques­tions about their mar­i­tal sta­tus to out­right phys­i­cal or sex­ual as­saults.

A CNN tele­vi­sion in­ves­ti­ga­tion in 2018 re­ported that at least 103 Uber driv­ers in the U.S. had been ac­cused of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing or abus­ing their pas­sen­gers in the past four years. At least 31 driv­ers have been convicted for crimes rang­ing from forcible touch­ing and false im­pris­on­ment to rape, and dozens of crim­i­nal and civil cases are pend­ing, CNN found.

There is no pub­licly avail­able data for the num­ber of sex­ual as­saults by Uber driv­ers or for driv­ers of other ride share com­pa­nies, the net­work stated. A re­port in the Wash­ing­ton Post stated that both Lyft and Uber have promised trans­parency re­ports out­lin­ing be­hav­ior by driv­ers in mul­ti­ple cat­e­gories of sex­ual as­sault, mis­con­duct and ha­rass­ment, but nei­ther has sched­uled those re­ports’ re­leases.

Now, mem­bers of Con­gress, in­clud­ing U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houla­han, D-6th, of East­town, have taken no­tice of the is­sues in­volv­ing the com­pa­nies, and some are tak­ing steps to ob­tain the data on in­ci­dences of as­sault and abuse re­ported on the com­pa­nies’ plat­forms.

“No per­son should feel un­safe when tak­ing an Uber, Lyft, or any ride shar­ing op­tion,” said Houla­han in a state­ment Mon­day. “Like any mother, my chil­dren’s safety is of the ut­most pri­or­ity. I want to make sure that we as a com­mu­nity are do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to stand up and pro­tect our chil­dren, neigh­bors, and friends. If com­pa­nies are not ag­gres­sively tak­ing steps to en­sure rid­ers’ safety, it is up to Con­gress to step in and en­sure con­sumer pro­tec­tion.”

On Mon­day, at­tor­ney Shanin Specter of the Philadel­phia law firm of Specter & Klein said his firm had be­gun rep­re­sent­ing some clients in cases in­volv­ing ride shar­ing ser­vices, but that those dealt gen­er­ally with neg­li­gence or other mat­ters and not crim­i­nal as­sault. Many driv­ers, he spec­u­lated, might know that they are more of­ten tracked by the com­pany and can face scru­tiny through their elec­tronic foot­prints and so act ap­pro­pri­ately with clients.

But, he said, any at­tack would be cause for con­cern. “The re­ports are infrequent, but one in­ci­dent is one in­ci­dent too many, and would be tragic,” he said.

In the Delaware Val­ley, there have been few re­ports of sex­ual as­sault by Uber or Lyft driv­ers.

In 2017, an Uber driver from Philadel­phia was sen­tenced to 7 1/2 to 15 years in state prison for sex­u­ally as­sault­ing a fe­male pas­sen­ger in Mont­gomery County, who told po­lice that in June 2015 she was in a ride shar­ing car and fell asleep. She told po­lice that she woke up in West Nor­ri­ton to find the driver fondling her.

In the cur­rent case, El­gaa­fary was ar­rested last fall, sev­eral months af­ter the woman, a res­i­dent of Charlestow­n, re­ported her case to po­lice.

The woman told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that she had been at the casino and was drink­ing heav­ily the night of Feb. 9 and into Feb. 10, 2018, She called for an Uber ride to take her home and was picked up at about 2:20 a.m. She said she did not re­mem­ber any­thing about the ride home, and woke up in her home that morning nau­seous and with a “bad feel­ing that some­thing may have hap­pened.”

She had bruises on her legs and fore­head, and dirt un­der her fin­ger­nails. She was also dressed only in a bra when she woke up.

Check­ing the Uber ap­pli­ca­tions, the woman saw that the ride had lasted ap­prox­i­mately 58 min­utes, when the nor­mal travel time between the casino and her home in Charlestow­n is about 15 min­utes. She was taken to Pottstown Hos­pi­tal, where a sex­ual as­sault ex­am­i­na­tion was con­ducted, in­clud­ing swabs for DNA.

State Trooper Amos Glick, a seven-year vet­eran of the state po­lice as­signed to the Lan­caster bar­racks, was able to iden­tify El­gaa­fary as the Uber driver who had picked her up the night of Feb. 10. Ac­cord­ing to a crim­i­nal com­plaint, the Egyp­tian na­tional appeared for an in­ter­view on March 2, and said he re­mem­bered pick­ing the woman up, and notic­ing that she appeared in­tox­i­cated. He said she vom­ited mul­ti­ple times dur­ing the ride, but he de­nied hav­ing any sex­ual con­tact with her. He vol­un­tar­ily agreed to pro­vide Glick with a sam­ple of his DNA.

When Glick later re­ceived the re­sults of the ex­am­i­na­tion, he said the state po­lice foren­sic lab had de­tected ev­i­dence of sperm on the vic­tim. A DNA anal­y­sis of that pos­i­tively iden­ti­fied his DNA in the ex­am­i­na­tion re­sults, al­legedly con­firm­ing that he had had sex with the woman.

El­gaa­fary was ar­rested on Oct. 31, and charged with rape of an un­con­scious per­son, in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sex­ual in­ter­course, sex­ual as­sault, and in­de­cent as­sault.

The case is be­ing pros­e­cuted by As­sis­tant District At­tor­neys Vince Cocco and Alexis Shaw. El­gaa­fary is rep­re­sented by West Ch­ester at­tor­neys Jonathan Altman and Melissa McCaf­ferty.

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