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Everett mayor calls for tighter screening of Uber drivers

Officials in Everett are calling on Uber and state lawmakers to tighten screening for drivers. Carl Court/Getty Images/Getty

A man who identified himself as an Uber driver was arraigned Tuesday on charges that he robbed and assaulted a woman who had called him for a ride the night before in Malden.

Wilson Brea, 21, of Revere, pleaded not guilty in Malden District Court to assault and battery on a person over age 60 or a disabled person, causing injury, and larceny over $250, court officials said.

He was ordered held on $500 bail and is due back in court Sept. 20, Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan’s office said in a statement.

Brea’s lawyer at arraignment, Kelly A. Norton, said in a phone interview that her client “is eager to address these charges” and “denying the facts” laid out by prosecutors. She declined to comment further.

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Ryan’s office said the incident occurred around 7:40 p.m. on Prentiss Street in Malden after the woman, who had used Brea’s services before, bypassed a ride-sharing app and called him directly to request transportation.

Brea asked to use her bathroom when he arrived, and after he exited the restroom he “allegedly took the victim’s handbag,” the statement said. “When the victim attempted to stop the defendant from taking her possession he allegedly pushed the victim and then proceeded to leave her house with her purse as well as prescription medication and get into his car.”

He identified himself as an Uber driver when he was arrested, Ryan’s office said.

However, an Uber spokeswoman, Susan Hendrick, said Tuesday that the company had no record of anyone by Brea’s name “driving on the [company] platform last night.”

Hendrick said she did not know whether Brea had driven on the platform previously. Some media reports indicated he may have driven for another ride-hailing company, but that Florida-based outfit said it offered no services in Massachusetts.

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Ryan’s office identified Brea as “an Uber driver” Tuesday.

Brea’s arrest came after Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria sent a letter on Monday to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, requesting a meeting after Uber driver Paul J. Griffin, 28, was arraigned on charges of exposing himself to girls in Everett and Malden. He also faces a similar allegation in Boston. None of Griffin’s alleged victims were his passengers during the incidents.

Earlier this month, another Uber driver, 34-year-old Darnell K. Booth, was accused of assaulting a 16-year-old Everett girl he met while driving for the company, despite what authorities described as a long criminal history.

A spokeswoman for Uber said company officials are looking forward to meeting with DeMaria.

Uber has banned Booth and Griffin from its platform and said Monday that Griffin, a livery driver, was not always working with Uber when he drove passengers.

Uber officials say the company runs criminal background checks on all new drivers and rescreens them twice a year, as required under Massachusetts law.

Drivers can’t have 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 years.

New state regulations requiring that the Department of Public Utilities to conduct separate background checks of drivers have not taken effect, DeMaria said. The regulations are due by November 2017.

State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, a leader of a legislative effort to improve monitoring of ride-hailing servies, said regulations will take time to craft because of the complexity of the law, which he described as the nation’s “most comprehensive public safety bill.”

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DeMaria also called for drivers to be fingerprinted, a step not required under the new law.

“Amend this legislation to immediately require thorough background checks for all drivers, and require fingerprinting,” DeMaria said in a statement that was separate from his letter. “Clearly, these drivers should be thoroughly vetted and they are not.”


Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@TAGlobe.