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Utah woman one of 14 in sexual assault lawsuit against Lyft

FILE - In this July 9, 2019, file photo a Lyft ride-share car waits at a stoplight in Sacramento, Calif.
Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah woman joined 13 others from seven states on Wednesday to file a lawsuit against the ride-hailing company Lyft, claiming they were sexually assaulted by their drivers.

As that lawsuit was being filed, state investigators were preparing to screen criminal charges in a separate case against a Lyft driver for an alleged sexual assault on a woman he picked up at a downtown Salt Lake club a year ago.

On Wednesday, the law firm of Estey & Bomberger announced a mass lawsuit had been filed in San Francisco Superior Court. The suit contends that Lyft allows known sexual predators to be drivers and conceals sexual assault complaints from both law enforcement and the general public.

“Lyft has made a concerted effort in the media, in litigation and in criminal cases to hide and conceal the true extent of sexual assaults that occur in their vehicles,” the law firm said in a prepared statement.

The suit contends that Lyft does not conduct proper background checks on drivers and has failed to take the steps necessary to protect the safety of passengers.

“Lyft corporate management has failed to implement the most basic and rudimentary procedures for the proper investigation of sexual assaults that are reported in their vehicles,” according to the lawsuit.

Between 2014 and 2016, Lyft received nearly 100 sexual assault complaints against drivers in California alone, according to the statement.

“At least as early as 2015, Lyft became aware that Lyft drivers were sexually assaulting and raping female customers” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit lists 14 “Jane Roes,” but leaves room for additional women — up to 1,000 — to be added later. The women listed are from California, North Carolina, Nevada, Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts and one from Utah.

Lyft released a statement on Wednesday, saying its commitment to safety is “stronger than ever” and that more resources are being dedicated to ensure “riders and drivers have the safest possible experience.”

“What the victims describe is terrifying and has no place in the Lyft community,” according to the statement. “As a platform committed to providing safe transportation, we hold ourselves to a higher standard by designing products and policies to keep out bad actors, make riders and drivers feel safe, and react quickly if and when an incident does occur.”

The Utah woman is identified in court documents as Jane Roe 7. According to the lawsuit, on Dec. 7, the woman was intoxicated while scootering home. That’s when Lyft driver Nazim Ali Mavlod pulled up next to her and coerced her to get into his car, the lawsuit states. She got in the car and officially requested a Lyft ride from her phone app while in the vehicle.

“The Lyft driver made sexual innuendos then sexually assaulted plaintiff during the route,” according to the lawsuit.

The woman, who identified herself as Kim, told “NBC Nightly News” on Wednesday, “He reached over and tried to grab me, well, did grab me around my neck forcefully and tried to kiss me.”

The woman tried using the “help” feature on the Lyft app but received an automated message that someone would be in touch with her once they “start the review process,” the lawsuit states.

The woman contacted Salt Lake police, and on Jan. 17, Mavlod was charged in Salt Lake County Justice Court with unlawful detention and battery, class B misdemeanors. On April 30, Mavlod was convicted of battery by pleading no contest while the unlawful detention charge was dismissed, according to court records. As part of Mavlod’s plea in abeyance, his conviction will be dismissed if he breaks no other laws over the next six months.

The attorneys who filed the lawsuit say the 14 women represented in the lawsuit “are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Also in Utah, the State Bureau of Investigation said Thursday it was preparing to screen charges against a Lyft driver, who has since been fired, for an alleged assault that happened nearly a year ago.

On Sept. 23, a woman ordered a Lyft to take her from a club in downtown Salt Lake City to her home in Centerville, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in 2nd District Court.

The driver dropped off his first passenger in Salt Lake City, then continued to drive the woman to her home.

But, “at 400 South and I-15, approximately 100 feet up the on-ramp, the driver pulled over and stopped briefly on the on-ramp. While stopped, the driver asked the victim to move from the back seat to the front seat of his vehicle, stating it would be easier for them to talk,” the warrant states.

Then, near 2600 South in Davis County while still on I-15, “the victim stated the driver grabbed her hand and put it on ‘his area,’” according to the affidavit.

The woman pulled her hand away and texted her boyfriend, requesting that he call her and pretend to be her father, the warrant states.

“After exiting I-15 at Parrish Lane, the victim reported that the driver again grabbed her hand, this time more forcefully,” and forced her to squeeze his genitals, according to the warrant.

“The victim then reported that the Lyft driver deliberately dropped her off two-three houses away from her residence and left quickly,” the affidavit states.

The woman contacted police and showed investigators screenshots of her Lyft driver and the route they took. She also showed them texts she was sending her boyfriend as they were driving.

“Literally my Uber is sooooo ... weird. Literally pulled over on the freeway to make me get in the front seat ... Can you call me? Act like my dad? Lol,” “Call me,” and “SOS JUST PUT MY HAND ON HIS (genitals),” were some of the messages, the warrant states.

The driver was identified as a man who used to live in Lehi but moved to Los Angeles shortly after the alleged assault, according to the warrant. The State Bureau of Investigation has been attempting to contact the man for the past several months without any success, Utah Department of Public Safety Sgt. Nick Street confirmed Thursday. He said investigators are at the point they are going to move forward with the case, even without a statement from the driver. He expects formal charges to be screened in the near future.

An emergency panic button is one of the safety additions Lyft officials say is currently being worked on by the company.