Uber attacked over pattern of ignoring police and victims before London ban

When Uber refused to comply with a warrant in a California sexual assault case, police, prosecutors and the judge were bewildered.

Lt Brian South told the Guardian that in more than 15 years on the job, he had never seen anyone so brazenly defy a judge’s order for records. A prosecutor testified that Uber was actively preventing law enforcement from protecting riders from violence, and a judge attacked the ride-share corporation for a “horrific” pattern of ignoring police, describing its typical response as “give as little as possible, be as uncooperative as possible”.

The judge’s forceful rebuke – in a criminal case where a driver was accused of restraining and attacking a female passenger – is one of many allegations across the globe of Uber neglecting the safety of riders and drivers by failing to work with law enforcement and ignoring standard regulations. Last week, Uber lost its license in London in part due to the government’s concerns about the company’s failure to report sexual assaults to police.

While Uber is fighting London to stay in operation there, critics throughout the world are pushing other local municipalities to follow suit – and some say the law enforcement concerns cited in the UK are far from unique. Several women in the US, who say they were sexually assaulted in Uber cars, are now filing fresh lawsuits against the company and spoke exclusively with the Guardian this week about their claims of fundamental public safety problems at Uber.

The San Francisco-based firm is facing widespread pressure after months of bad press surrounding corporate misconduct and sexual harassment, shady tactics to evade law enforcement and claims that Uber mistreats and underpays its drivers.

In Moraga, a city 20 miles east of Uber’s San Francisco headquarters, court records reveal particularly damning allegations related to the company’s evasion of police. After a driver was arrested on suspicion of sexual battery in May, prosecutors successfully obtained a warrant for information related to the more than 1,000 rides the suspect had given in the previous 90 days.

Uber claimed the order was overly broad, ignored the warrant, missed the deadline imposed by the judge and failed to properly communicate with police, according to a court transcript. Prosecutors were then forced to delay the investigation and bring Uber to court in an unusual hearing where Judge Clare Maier sanctioned the company and angrily demanded it comply with the order she had already signed.



An anti-Uber protest in New York in February 2017. Photograph: Michael N/Pacific/Barcroft Image

“The reputation of Uber for cooperating with law enforcement is horrific,” said Maier, whose $1,000 sanction was first reported in the East Bay Times. “The fact that Uber resists search warrants gives me grave concern that there is an ulterior motive here and not any desire to cooperate.”

The judge said she was further concerned Uber was blocking an investigation into a man who could be a repeat offender.

“I don’t think you have the authority to just resist a search warrant,” the judge later said. “You’ve dragged your feet on every aspect of it.”

South, the police lieutenant on the case, said in an interview: “I’ve never had somebody flat-out refuse to comply with a search warrant.”

Uber’s lawyer Candace Kelly testified that it was a “technology company” that put strangers together in cars where “bad things” can happen, and that Uber did not “want to be the cause of delay in solving those incidents”.

A spokesperson for Uber, which subsequently complied with the warrant, declined to comment.

‘They turn their back on women’

Women who say they have been attacked during Uber trips said the company should be liable and should have done more to help police hold assailants accountable.

“Uber is allowing this to happen and providing the means to make it so easy for predators,” said Indra, a Virginia woman who said she was sexually assaulted by a driver last year and requested not to use her full name. Her subsequent conversations with Uber left her with the impression that the company’s position was “this kind of thing is common and they just didn’t care”, she said. “That’s just abhorrent. They didn’t seem concerned about me as a person.”

Indra, 38, is one of several women who is now bringing lawsuits against Uber with Lisa Bloom, a high-profile California attorney who has brought sexual misconduct cases against Fox News, Bill Cosby and Donald Trump.

A Los Angeles woman, who filed a case anonymously as Jane Doe on Tuesday, alleged in a lawsuit that after she reported a driver fondling her in a car, an Uber representative told her: “Do whatever you want to about the incident.”

In an interview, Jane Doe, 25, said Uber never even refunded her ride or followed up with her to let her know if the driver had been permanently banned. She said it was not clear whether Uber had done everything it could to work with police: “If there’s any sort of battery or sexual assault claims – anything that’s putting a driver or passenger at risk – they should be fully willing to comply with the police and give them any information they need.”

Uber typically does not disclose information to passengers or drivers about alleged assailants, citing privacy concerns, and complies with law enforcement requests for data only when given subpoenas. The Jane Doe suit alleges that this policy can hamper police investigations and discourage criminal charges, arguing that “non-cooperation with law enforcement agencies means that Uber has provided its drivers with tacit assurance that their misconduct will not be detected by law enforcement”.

Uber’s failure to work with police means that for some victims, their only option is to file a civil suit, Bloom said in an interview.

“They have all this information. It’s a very simple matter for them to cooperate,” she said. “It’s just shocking how they are turning their back on women customers and allowing this to go on.”

Bloom also filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of a passenger who claimed she was sexually harassed and falsely imprisoned by an Uber driver.

A recent lawsuit filed in Kansas City alleged that an Uber passenger was raped by a driver a month after Uber was explicitly warned by a member of the public that the man was dangerous. The driver had also previously been convicted of attempted first-degree murder, according to the suit.

Kate Lewis, a former Uber driver, also publicly accused the company of failing to do enough to support a criminal investigation after she reported that a passenger had groped and sexually assaulted her throughout a ride last year.

“They were very defensive and not very sympathetic,” she said in a recent interview, adding that police told her that lack of communication by Uber was impeding the investigation. “Uber made it worse by not letting me get closure.” Police, however, claimed Uber cooperated in that investigation.

Uber declined to comment on specific cases. The company said it has a 24/7 customer support team and employs former law enforcement professionals who work with police.


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