MALDEN — An Uber driver faces a rape charge after allegedly assaulting a 16-year-old Everett girl he met while driving for the company despite what authorities said was a long criminal history.
The driver, 34-year-old Darnell K. Booth, pleaded not guilty in Malden District Court Thursday and is being held without bail until a dangerousness hearing Monday. Police say Booth sexually assaulted the teen July 5, after meeting her through Uber a week earlier.
Assistant District Attorney Carrie A. Spiros called Booth’s criminal record extensive, “with multiple convictions for violent offenses,” but Booth’s lawyer disputed that description — saying that it was mostly misdemeanors and dismissals and that he had been charged just once with sexual assault.
Jo Stringer, Booth’s lawyer, challenged the teenager’s account and said Booth “adamantly asserts” his innocence. Booth, who has lived in Dorchester and Lowell, according to records, appeared to collapse at the beginning of the hearing and could be heard sobbing from behind the wood paneling of the prisoner dock.
An Uber spokeswoman called the rape allegation “deeply upsetting” and said the company is cooperating with law enforcement. She said by e-mail that Booth, who drove for Uber from February until early July, has been “permanently banned from using the app.”
Uber runs criminal-background checks on all new drivers and re-screens them twice a year under a new Massachusetts law, spokeswoman Susan Hendricks said. Applicants are not eligible to drive if they have had a felony conviction in the past seven years or a major driving violation, such as a suspended or revoked license or registration, in the past three.
Booth’s full record was not immediately clear Thursday. An incomplete survey of several area courts included indications that he served state prison time for a 2008 drug conviction through Suffolk Superior Court and that he has faced an array of motor-vehicle charges. Prosecutors declined to elaborate.
In February, Booth was charged with operating with a suspended license; a judge in March agreed to dismiss the charge if he paid $300 court costs by September. On June 11, police pulled Booth over in Charlestown and charged him with having tinted windows and driving with a license plate that belonged to a different vehicle, issuing a citation and summons.
Booth also failed to show at a court hearing in Malden June 28 — to face charges that he parked an unregistered, unlicensed car there in February — leading State Police to arrest him on a warrant the following day, records show.
Booth posted a $40 bail fee and was released that night. The next day, June 30, he picked up the teenager in Melrose, after her father ordered an Uber to bring her home to Everett, the prosecutor said.
After the trip, Booth added the teen as a friend on the messaging app Snapchat, Spiros said. On July 4, he messaged her saying he was parked outside and suggested she join him, Spiros said.
The 16-year-old exchanged messages with Booth but stayed inside. The next morning, though, she texted her summer-school bus driver to say she had overslept and would miss the bus, Spiros said. Booth sent the teen a Snapchat message asking if she needed a ride to school, and she accepted, the prosecutor said.
After the teen climbed in, Booth drove toward Melrose, then pulled into a “largely abandoned parking lot,” Spiros said. There, he ordered the girl to remove her pants, Spiros said, and leaned over and slapped her twice. Booth climbed over the seat, pinned the girl down, and stripped off her pants and underwear, Spiros said.
“At that point, he raped her,” she said, then took her to school.
After the teen contacted police, forensic analysts found evidence on her T-shirt that is being analyzed, Spiros said.
Booth’s lawyer, Jo Stringer, said the teenager’s account raises “far more questions than answers.”
Judge William Fitzpatrick sealed the case file Thursday, making the police report unavailable, but Stringer said the teen told authorities she found Booth’s flirting unwelcome — yet accepted his Snapchat request and willingly got back into the car with him.
“It’s a fascinating coincidence that she texts her bus driver to say she doesn’t need a ride, and then lo and behold Mr. Booth says to her, ‘Do you need a ride?’ ” Stringer said.
In a statement, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said Booth “allegedly took advantage of a young woman who trusted him in his professional capacity as an Uber driver.”
Everett Police Chief Steven Mazzie said in a statement that he was “concerned that not enough is being done to properly screen [ride-sharing] drivers.”
Mazzie and Ryan both urged people to exercise caution when using Uber and similar services.