Lyft driver pleads not guilty to lewd conduct

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A Vermont Lyft driver pled not guilty to a charge of lewd and lascivious conduct, after reportedly exposing himself to a St. Michael’s College student.

According to the affidavit, 42-year-old Thomas Rosser of Winooski picked up a St. Michael’s college student in the early hours of Sept. 17 while driving for Lyft, a ride-share service, then proceeded to expose his genitals and place the student’s hand on his genitals without her consent.

Rosser was charged with one count of lewd and lascivious conduct–a felony carrying a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine of $300. He pled not guilty at an arraignment on Sept. 19.

Sgt. Michael Fish of the Colchester Police Department (CPD) wrote in the affidavit that the student was originally in the backseat of Rosser’s car. When she asked Rosser to turn the heat up, he replied that it did not work in the backseat and to relocate to the front.

Moving to the front seat, “she had just put her seatbelt back on when the driver took her left hand and put it on his penis which was exposed,” Fish wrote in the report. “[The student] advised she pulled her hand back and the driver said to her, “you don’t want to, that’s okay.”’

In a statement the student gave to St. Michael’s Public Safety, she said that she immediately pulled away from Rosser and looked out the window during the rest of the ride, but “heard what sounded like him zipping up his shorts. She said that once he zipped his shorts up, he tried to continue the conversation about school, but she did not speak to him.”

At first, the student reported the incident to the Burlington Police Department, unsure of where exactly the incident occurred. According to the report, BPD told her it wasn’t in their jurisdiction and to report it to CPD. Fish wrote that while he spoke with her, the student “was very upset and frustrated. She advised that no one seemed to want to help her or take this seriously.”

When Fish initially met and questioned Rosser about the incident, the defendant claimed that the student had lied and that “she probably didn’t like his color.” When Fish told the defendant that the female student was African American, Rosser replied, “Women like that don’t like it when we have contact with white people.”

After claiming the student had lied, Rosser changed direction, claiming that “it was all about fraud.” Fish discovered that this was in reference to Rosser’s efforts to become a State police officer, although how the student could have known this information is unclear.

The report also states that, upon conducting a records check, Fish discovered that Rosser has numerous complaints against him regarding “inappropriate behavior,” including, “asking strangers, always women for blow jobs, asking for happy endings during massages, exposing himself during massages and masturbating during a yoga class. He is currently taking classes at UVM and has been trespassed from locations on campus for actions which have made female student athletes (specifically the swim team) uncomfortable.”

Since the charge, Lyft has terminated Rosser’s employment.

The car-sharing service has been under fire recently for the alleged holes in its background checks and safety policies.

One California lawsuit against the company filed this year argues that Lyft does not take enough precautions to prevent assault by its drivers, due to the financial incentive to hire as many drivers as possible. Plaintiffs include 14 women who were allegedly assaulted by Lyft drivers. Another suit accuses the company of general negligence and vicarious liability for assault, after the plaintiff was kidnapped at gunpoint, taken across state lines, and raped.

The company made changes to its safety policies in May of this year, including in-app 911 calling and new community safety education mandatory for all Lyft drivers.