N.O. police arrest cabbie in rape case

A Yellow Cab taxi driver with a previous conviction for holding a woman against her will was arrested by New Orleans police Tuesday after authorities say he kidnapped and raped a woman last week.

Sohail Khan, 40, was booked with simple rape and second-degree kidnapping, Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas announced at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. Khan was being booked into jail, and no bond has been set for him.

Khan is accused of raping a 20-year-old woman Thursday morning after picking her up from an establishment on Tchoupitoulas Street.

Police said the victim reported that she was intoxicated when the cab driver picked her up and passed out in the back of his taxi. When she awoke, the man was sexually assaulting her, Serpas said. Although Serpas never confirmed the exact location of the sexual assault, an initial police report identified it as 7600 Plum St.

Serpas said police were able to develop Khan as a suspect through the use of controversial new equipment included in New Orleans taxis.

Last year, New Orleans mandated that taxi drivers install panic buttons, security cameras and GPS systems in their vehicles, equipment many drivers called overly expensive and unnecessary.

But Malachi Hull, director of the New Orleans Taxicab Bureau, said his department used the GPS systems inside all taxis to determine which vehicles were in the areas connected to the rape. Officials then brought those drivers in for an interview, and later reviewed the security videos from the taxis, Hull said.

Serpas said they were able use that video to confirm the victim’s story, although he did not provide details on what happened in the vehicle.

“(The equipment) gave us some leads that we wouldn’t have had as easily,” Serpas said.

This is the not the first time Khan has been accused of crime involving a woman.

Serpas said Khan was arrested in 2010 in New Jersey for soliciting prostitutes, and he also pleaded guilty to false imprisonment in Jefferson Parish that same year.

In the local incident, Khan locked a woman in his cab after giving her a ride from the Intercontinental Hotel in New Orleans to the Louis Armstrong International Airport in Kenner. According to a probable cause affidavit, Khan refused to let the woman leave the cab unless she provided him with a tip in addition to the $33 fare. When Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene, they said the woman was screaming hysterically and feared for her safety. Khan’s sentence in the incident was deferred.

Guidelines for taxi driver permits in New Orleans state that anyone convicted of a violent felony shall be barred from receiving a driver’s permit. In addition, anyone convicted of a lesser felony or of the crimes of pandering, prostitution or soliciting a prostitute will be barred from receiving a license to drive a taxi for at least five years after that conviction. It was not immediately clear if Khan was convicted in the New Jersey incident.

City spokesman Ryan Berni said the current rules disqualify drivers with felony convictions, but the city recently introduced an ordinance that would allow the immediate suspension of drivers who are charged with certain crimes.

In addition to Khan’s arrest, Serpas announced that police are searching for two men accused of raping a woman Sunday after picking her up in the early morning hours in the 700 block of Camp Street. Serpas said the victim told police that the men forced her into an SUV at gunpoint after first striking up a conversation with her.

She said the men robbed her and then blindfolded her and took her to another location where they each had sex with her multiple times. Serpas said the victim also reported that the men made her take an unknown pill before dropping her off at an unknown location in Gentilly. A passerby picked her up and then she contacted police, Serpas said.

Serpas said that there has not been a spike in sexual assaults involving abductions despite recent high-profile incidents like the cab driver incident and the rape and abduction in the Garden District in March.

“This particular event is very unusual,” Serpas said.

Anyone with information on either event is encouraged to contact Crime Stoppers at (504) 822-1111.