DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The trial began today for a former North Texas Uber driver accused of sexually assaulting a passenger in 2015. This morning the jury heard opening arguments and testimony in the case against 59-year-old Talal Chammout.
Police say after dropping off a female passenger at her West Oak Cliff home, Chammout followed the woman inside, hit her over the head and sexually assaulted her.
In opening statements the defense told jurors Chammout is not guilty and that his accuser doesn’t want to take responsibility for the consensual sex. His attorney, Katherine Devlin, said, “We are not here because of a rape. We are here because a woman messed up, she got caught and she had to find a way out.”
Prosecutors argued that consensual sex wasn’t possible. “This is going to be about consent. And at the end of the day after you hear from all of the witnesses in this case and you hear the victim’s statement you’re gonna realize she couldn’t consent,” said prosecutor Trey Stock. “She trusted him to get her home safely. He got her home and he had sex with her. It’s not right. It’s against the law.”
The accuser, who is not being identified, took the stand and at times was in tears as she told the jury what she remembers happening three years ago. The woman said she spent July 25th at a brithday party drinking with friends. She said she’d never taken an Uber alone before, but when it was time to leave the bar she knew she was too intoxicated to drive.
The woman, who was 27-years-old at the time, said her memories were fuzzy, but she remembers being knocked out and when she regained consciousness Chammout was on top of her.
After Chammout was accused of assault, officials with the City of Dallas learned he’d used a fake permit to become an Uber driver. He had a prior criminal record and had even served time in prison after a federal weapons conviction.
Chammout was among a group of drivers who were grandfathered into Uber’s system. The drivers only needed to have a valid city permit, which would have meant passing the required criminal background check.
Hours before the trial was set to begin Uber released details on their new sexual assault/harassment policy. Uber now says their focus is on “transparency, integrity, and accountability” and in doing so now gives passengers and drivers more options and freedoms to pursue claims of sexual misconduct.
In a statement on the company website Chief Legal Officer Tony West detailed some of those changes including – no longer requiring mandatory arbitration for individual claims of sexual assault or sexual harassment by Uber riders, drivers or employees and allowing alleged victims to choose whether to resolve their claims through “mediation where they can choose confidentiality; in arbitration, where they can choose to maintain their privacy while pursuing their case; or in open court.”
Last month, Uber announced that they would start performing annual criminal background checks on U.S. drivers, hire a company to constantly monitor criminal arrests and add a 911 button to get help in case of emergency.
Chammout’s accuser was the first to testify in the trial, but prosecutors have several witnesses lined up to take the stand before the defense presents its case.