WOBURN — A former Uber driver was arraigned Thursday on charges that he took a female passenger on a nightmare ride where he sexually assaulted and harassed her in a court proceeding that drew a group of taxi drivers protesting the background check policies of ride-hailing companies.
“My 45 years as a taxi driver have been done without incident, and why is it that Uber is here providing the same service but committing crimes at the same time?” taxi driver James Christie said outside Woburn District Court.
Junior Clarke, 31, of Lawrence, is facing charges of indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or over, and accosting/annoying a person of the opposite sex, according to State Police. A not-guilty plea was entered on his behalf and he was released on $500 cash bail.
According to a State Police report, the 25-year-old woman requested an Uber car from a friend’s house in Methuen on Saturday to travel to Norwood. Upon its arrival around 4:45 a.m., she allegedly asked the driver where she should sit, as it was her first time using the service, and Clarke told her to sit in the front.
A few minutes after the hour-long ride began, Clarke allegedly began harassing the woman — inquiring about her personal life, repeatedly asking her to kiss him, and inappropriately touching her.
The woman texted a friend, describing Clarke’s alleged actions.
At about 4:50 a.m., State Police said, the victim texted the friend “aaand now he’s hitting on me.” A few minutes later, she texted “he wants me to kiss him” followed by “I said no 3 times . . . I have said no 5 times . . . make that 8.”
Clarke allegedly stopped assaulting the woman several minutes before dropping her off in Norwood, State Police said. Troopers said they rushed to her home after receiving a 911 call from a family member and arrived just after Clarke drove away.
The woman was uninjured, according to State Police.
Clarke appeared in court Thursday wearing a suit and tie, and was accompanied by a translator and his attorney. He was ordered to have no contact with the alleged victim, and not to seek or maintain any employment with Uber or any transportation company.
An Uber spokeswoman, Carlie Waibel, said in a statement this week that Clarke was “banned from the platform’’ after State Police reported they were filing criminal charges against him.
Waibel said she did not know how long Clarke worked for Uber before he was terminated.
Clarke’s defense lawyer, Mark Hooper, said his client has no prior criminal record and denies all of the allegations.
“He doesn’t understand it,” he said, declining to elaborate.
Hooper also said that Clarke has two children and another one on the way.
About five taxi drivers, including Raymond MacCausland — who was in the news this week after he returned about $187,000 left in the back seat of his cab — appeared in court for Clarke’s arraignment Thursday. All of them wore yellow T-shirts, some with pictures of fingerprints on them.
Rudy Krutous, 69, said the drivers were protesting the difference in background checks that Uber drivers and taxi drivers must go through before they are hired. He said it is unfair that taxi drivers must be fingerprinted, while Uber drivers are not subject to the same regulations.
“What is going on is unfair, and [is] not enough safety for our citizens,” Krutous said outside the courtroom. “We are not against Uber, we are against their background checks.”
Following a series of instances where drivers have been charged with assault in Boston, Uber’s screening process has been called into questions. At issue is the third party company that Uber uses to conduct its background checks, which does not fingerprint drivers, unlike the Hackney Carriage Unit that regulates the city’s taxis.
A pending State House bill would regulate certain elements of ride-hailing services. State Senator William Brownsberger said he supports a version of the bill that would not require fingerprinting, as he said modern vetting techniques are more effective.
Brownsberger said the Clarke case showcases the strengths of ride-hailing companies that can easily track drivers.
In the Clark case, the victim provided State Police with a screenshot of the suspect’s information, which was available on the Uber app. The screenshot included Clarke’s first name, a picture of him, and his license plate number.
“It is an example of how quickly someone gets nailed if they do something wrong if they are an Uber driver,” he said.
Trisha Thadani can be reached at email@example.com.