This story was updated on 5/21/2015 at 3:20 p.m. with information from court documents on the case. In a recent email decrying Burlington's inability to supervise its taxi industry, the staff person in charge of licensing cabs asked city officials a question: "Does somebody need to get hurt in order for this to become a priority?"
According to the police, someone already has been hurt. The Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations announced Wednesday evening that it arrested a man who drives for the ride-share company Uber, charging him with sexual assault of a passenger. The driver also had a license from the city to drive taxis.
CUSI alleges that early in the morning of February 1, Omar Nassir, 23, sexually assaulted his female passenger.
In court today, he pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual assault and lewd and lascivious conduct.
According to a police affidavit, the alleged victim’s roommate called police around 4 a.m. on February 1. The 22-year-old passenger told police that Nassir had requested sexual acts and exposed himself to her. She was intoxicated and said her memory of the ride was spotty.
When a detective tried to contact Nassir on March 27, he told police via email he was in Kenya and would get in touch upon his return. On May 18, he showed up at the Burlington police department for questioning. Initially he denied having any contact with the alleged victim but he later — after being told, falsely, that police had DNA evidence — admitted that they had started to have sex, and cut short when she "flipped out on him." He claimed that she initiated the encounter.
The police subpoenaed GPS coordinates from Uber that showed Nassir drove the passenger in what amounted to a circle. Before he dropped her at her residence, the GPS stopped emitting a signal for 30 minutes.
In a story published Wednesday, Seven Days examined gaps in the city's oversight of taxis. It noted that in some circumstances, getting a city license may be easier than meeting the requirements to drive for Uber. In this case, Nassir had been cleared to drive by both Uber and the city.
Uber emailed the following statement: "This was a horrific incident and upon learning of it in February, we immediately removed the driver from the Uber platform. We have been in touch with the rider to support her during this difficult time, and have been working closely with the authorities throughout their investigation."