At the same time D.C. police were announcing the arrest of an Uber limousine driver in the alleged rape of a 20-year-old customer, District prosecutors were saying they would not charge the man.
The two agencies rarely air disputes over cases, but Thursday, they contradicted each other publicly at virtually the same moment. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said the office would not prosecute Anouar Habib Trabelsi, and a top D.C. police commander held a news conference outside police headquarters to announce the criminal charge.
Miller said Trabelsi, 35, who had been working under contract for Uber, was to be released from custody late Thursday afternoon or evening.
Miller said the case remains under investigation, and he declined to comment further. Reached after the televised news conference, a D.C. police official declined to comment. Prosecutors and police often discuss cases and evidence before deciding on charges, but officials at both agencies would not say whether such a conversation took place in this case.
Trabelsi’s wife, Katie Trabelsi, said in a telephone interview from North Carolina earlier Thursday that her husband was innocent. After prosecutors announced his pending release, Katie Trabelsi said she was outraged by the arrest and the details that were made public.
Katie Trabelsi said the accuser, who lives in Northwest Washington, made advances on her husband. She would not say whether there had been sexual contact. “This has caused us so much pain,” the wife said. She said she suspects the young woman made up the allegations about an attack as a cover story for her mother.
The incident occurred Dec. 8. Police said the woman called Uber — a smartphone-based dispatch service that provides an alternative to traditional taxis — from outside a U Street bar. Court documents say she had three drinks at the bar and shared a marijuana cigarette with a friend.
The driver contracted by Uber picked her up, police said, and drove her home. The woman told police that the driver made overtures but that she ignored them. After getting out of the limo, she allegedly was grabbed from behind and knocked to the ground, hitting her head on the concrete driveway. She told detectives that she was then raped.
At the time, D.C. police said they were investigating a reported attack but provided little more information. Court documents show they obtained a warrant to test the driver’s DNA, but the records do not describe the results.
Police said Thursday that they obtained a warrant for the driver’s arrest and that he was picked up by the Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force on Wednesday when he returned to the District from North Carolina.
In a news release Thursday morning, police said Trabelsi had been charged with first-degree sexual abuse. At 4 p.m., D.C. Police Cmdr. George Kucik, head of the criminal investigation division, repeated that information in front of newspaper and television reporters. At nearly that exact time, Miller from the U.S. attorney’s office informed news organizations that no charges would be filed.
D.C. police typically release information about criminal suspects shortly after they are arrested, providing names and criminal charges in statements that are distributed to the news media and posted on the department’s Internet site. But technically, charges aren’t official until reports are reviewed by prosecutors, charging papers are drawn up and suspects make a first appearance in D.C. Superior Court.
Prosecutors often decide not to act on an arrest by police, though that rarely happens in a high-profile case. The connection to the popular Uber service put the alleged attack in the spotlight and prompted the news conference.
An Uber representative issued a statement Thursday saying that the company had severed its relationship with Trabelsi after the allegation was made in December. The company did not comment on the new information.