An Anchorage taxi driver was arrested this week for allegedly groping and trying to climb on top of a 19-year-old woman passenger in late April.
It was not until Tuesday, 50 days after the incident, that an officer arrested the Yellow Cab driver, Abdifatah Ali, who had continued to drive his cab. In part, that was because patrol officers were mistakenly not notified in May of an arrest warrant for Ali, according to an Anchorage police lieutenant.
Ali, 33, faces charges of second-degree sexual assault and first-degree harassment.
According to a written statement from police spokeswoman Dani Myren, here is what happened:
Ali picked up the woman just before 4:45 p.m. on April 29. She asked him to drive her from her home to work. "(He) began asking questions the victim found disturbing and touching her leg."
Before they reached her intended destination, the woman asked to be dropped off at the Spenard Roadhouse, on Northern Lights Boulevard near Spenard Road.
When she started to get out of the cab, Ali "climbed partially on top of her, reached under her dress, and began to inappropriately touch and grope her," Myren said. "The victim was able to escape and proceeded to a place where she could call for assistance."
According to Lt. Michelle Bucher, the case was assigned to a patrol officer the next day.
"It depends on the level of the case. Sometimes the patrol officers will handle it. Sometimes the detectives do," Bucher said.
The officer, Ian Lewis, contacted a sergeant in the police department's Special Victims Unit. The sergeant told Lewis to work the case, Bucher said.
On May 24, the officer talked to the woman again to get more information, Myren said. At some point during the investigation, he also spoke to Yellow Cab to get the necessary information to determine which cab was Ali's, the police spokeswoman said.
Court records show charges were filed against Ali on May 25, the day a judge issued an arrest warrant.
Since 2011, Anchorage law allows the city Transportation Inspector to suspend the chauffeur's license of a driver charged with sexual assault. By the time the charges were filed against Ali, he had been able to operate as a cabbie for nearly a month. Despite knowing his physical description, the description of his car and his work address, another 24 days would go by from when the charges were filed to when police actually arrested Ali.
"All investigations take time depending on the magnitude of the case and how easy or difficult it is to track down the people we need to interview or the evidence we need to make the case," Bucher said, when asked about the delay. "That being said ... I do think this is a case where I'm not completely satisfied with how long it took, and I'd like to see us do better."
"The home address that we had for him, and that was checked, was not a good one. But I think knowing his place of employment, should've gotten us to him faster than we did."
On Tuesday, June 18, a supervisor reviewing cases realized the information on Ali's warrant was never given to patrol officers, Bucher said. Now aware of the warrant, an officer either spotted Ali or the number on his car, pulled him over and arrested him the same day of the warrant information was distributed, the police lieutenant said.
Bucher said she did not know why the warrant information did not go out.
"I think the fail-safes are already in place, they just didn't happen fast enough," she said. "We could've done better."
Bucher said she is not aware of any further review of the case by police department officials.
City Transportation Inspector Eric Musser said he is looking into the possibility of suspending Ali's chauffeur's license. Ali is in jail, so he's obviously not driving a taxi, Musser said. Ali's license had been in good standing, and Musser said he had not received any complaints about him.
At least three other Anchorage cab drivers have been charged with sexual assault in the last three years:
• A jury convicted Yellow Cab driver Rafael Martinez Lopez of second-degree sexual assault for a May 2010 attack on a passenger.
• Police charged another Yellow Cab driver, Chidiebere Nwokorie, with first-degree sexual assault in August 2011 for allegedly raping a woman. Nwokorie's case is still awaiting trial.
• Police charged Checker Cab driver Paul Velasco with first-degree sexual assault for raping a woman passenger who had been drinking heavily in May 2012. He also is awaiting trial.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE