An Uber driver in Pittsburgh has been charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment after he tried to lock two female passengers in his car and told them, "You're not going anywhere," police said.
The women told police that around 1:30am Saturday, the driver picked them up, remarked on their looks, parked the car at an intersection and made the threatening comment, according to Chris Togneri, a spokesman for the Pittsburgh Police Department. When the driver tried to lock the doors, the women jumped out of the back seat and ran away from the car shouting for help, Togneri said.
Authorities found the Uber driver, Richard Lomotey, 36, through his Uber app identification and photo. Lomotey, who is also an assistant professor of information sciences and technology at Penn State Beaver, a commonwealth campus of the state university in Monaca, Pennsylvania, was arrested and charged with two counts of kidnapping, two counts of harassment and two counts of false imprisonment.
The arrest was a new blow to Uber, which has struggled with allegations of sexual misconduct by drivers and is trying to recover from a disappointing initial public offering last week.
"What's been described is unacceptable," Jodi Kawada Page, an Uber spokeswoman, wrote in an email. "The driver's access to the app has been removed and we stand ready to cooperate with law enforcement to support their investigation."
Lomotey has been put on leave at the Penn State Beaver campus while the university gathers more information, said Rachel A. Pell, Penn State's associate vice president for news and media relations.
He "will not be in the classroom," Pell said. "This is a criminal matter, and we cannot comment further."
No bail was assigned to Lomotey, and he has been released from jail. He is expected to appear in court again May 23. Attempts to reach him Monday were unsuccessful, and it was unclear if he had retained a lawyer. The two women who reported the incident to police have not been publicly identified.
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Uber has teamed up with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, a nonprofit group, to review 212 instances of sexual misconduct that occurred during rides in 2017. The organization has also helped Uber put together a sexual assault transparency report before its IPO. Uber has promised to release the report this year.
Uber has several systems in place to protect passengers and drivers. They include a screening process that must be completed before drivers can use the Uber app, which includes a driving and criminal history background check that is carried out by a third party. A team of former law enforcement professionals are on call to work with police 24 hours a day, and an emergency button provides an option for riders and drivers to connect directly to 911 through the app. These systems have not necessarily thwarted the rash of passengers' reports of assaults and misconduct by drivers.
Uber and other ride-sharing companies have also faced the problem of people, mostly men, posing as drivers to carry out kidnappings, sexual assaults and robberies, largely against young women.
In March, Samantha Josephson, a 21-year-old college student in South Carolina, was stabbed to death after she got into a car that she thought was her Uber ride. A week after Josephson was killed, three women who said they were raped by men posing as Uber drivers filed a lawsuit against the company claiming that it knew fake drivers were targeting women but did not warn its customers.
After Josephson's death, Uber renewed a campaign urging passengers to check a car's license plate to make sure it matches the one on their app and to ask each driver what his or her name is when getting in a car to confirm it's the driver called from the passenger's account.