A former Yellow Cab driver pleaded guilty Tuesday to raping a 20-year-old woman who had passed out in the back of his taxi more than two years ago — a case the authorities cracked by using a network of GPS devices and security cameras installed in New Orleans cabs.
The driver, Sohail Khan, who has a history of run-ins with law enforcement, was sentenced to five years behind bars after admitting to counts of simple rape and second-degree kidnapping, according to court records.
Khan, 42, had been free on $300,000 bond but was taken into custody Tuesday afternoon.
The victim was out of the state and did not attend the hearing in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, but she was agreeable to the sentence, court documents show.
The rape happened in May 2013 after Khan picked up the woman from a bar on Tchoupitoulas Street. She was intoxicated and told authorities that she passed out in the back of the taxi after 3 a.m. She said she awoke to find Khan having sex with her.
The woman offered a vague description of her assailant and could not recall the name of the cab company he worked for, said Malachi Hull, who at the time was director of the New Orleans Taxicab Bureau. However, authorities identified the driver within days by making use of the GPS systems and security cameras that were required in all city cabs by a 2012 law.
“Without those reforms, I would be pretty certain that this case would not have been solved,” Hull said. “The young lady did not have very much information about the driver.”
Using the address of the bar and the approximate time the woman had been picked up, Hull said, investigators identified several dozen cabs within a half-mile radius of the area and began poring through security footage. The cameras in Khan’s cab showed the woman hailing the cab and climbing in the back.
Khan appeared to realize the woman was inebriated, and he did not drive directly to her destination, Hull said.
Khan proceeded to cover one of the in-cab cameras with some kind of cloth. “He didn’t do that until she passed out,” Hull said. After that, the cab remained parked for about 12 minutes.
Khan later dropped the woman off about two blocks from her home, Hull said. “She ended up walking home,” he added, “and that’s when she told her roommate what happened.”
Khan later was said to have asked fellow cab drivers how he might go about deleting footage from his camera.
His defense attorney did not return messages seeking comment late Tuesday.
The guilty plea came about a week after another Yellow Cab driver, Jeremiah Knox, was arrested on allegations he opened fire on a motorist in the French Quarter in an apparent road rage incident.
Earlier this year, police booked another cab driver, Simion Hachi, on second-degree battery after they said he assaulted a businessman following a dispute over a fare.
While the businessman, who is gay, said he believed Hachi attacked him due to his sexual orientation, Brian Pesses, a witness to the incident, said in an interview Friday that the businessman had spat on Hachi. The businessman denied that.
Khan, the driver sentenced Tuesday, had a previous criminal history. At the time of his arrest, police said he had been arrested in New Jersey in 2010 on allegations he had solicited prostitutes.
The same year, he pleaded guilty to false imprisonment, a misdemeanor, in Jefferson Parish for locking a woman in his cab after she declined to give him a tip on top of the $33 fare she paid for a trip from the InterContinental Hotel in New Orleans to Louis Armstrong International Airport in Kenner. The woman was screaming hysterically when deputies arrived at the scene.
Khan received six months of probation in that case, but the conviction did not prevent him from driving a cab in New Orleans under city guidelines.
Hull said, however, that another benefit of the 2012 reforms was that they gave the Taxicab Bureau the authority to summarily suspend drivers arrested for any felony or so-called disqualifying offenses, such as DWI. Without that ability, he said, Khan “would have been allowed to continue to operate a taxicab for the past two years.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.