A Chicago Uber driver’s instinct to record his conversation with a woman he picked up for a ride in November has saved him from spending years behind bars.
Maxime Fohounhedo, a 30-year-old native of Benin, was released from a Cook County jail on Monday after spending the past four months there.
Fohounhedo was arrested in December after a 22-year-old woman accused him of sexually assaulting her at his apartment on Nov. 16. The woman claimed that she was passed out during her ride in Fouhounhedo’s car, but his secret recording provides evidence that she was awake and carrying on a conversation. After prosecutors verified the audio they consulted with the accuser, and she decided to drop charges.
“He had a gut feeling he needed to protect himself,” Shady Yassin, Fohounhedo’s attorney, told CBS Chicago of his client’s decision to record his fare. “She was having a friendly conversation with him and talking about her boyfriend and her work and gave him a hug in the end.”
The woman said that she was out with friends when she used her phone to summon an Uber X driver. After Fohounhedo picked her up, the woman said she passed out in his car and went in and out of consciousness. She said that Fohounhedo pulled into an alley and then eventually took her to his apartment, where he raped her.
Fohounhedo, who graduated college in Benin and has no criminal record, was put in jail and slapped with $500,000 bail. His case was cited as an example of one of the problems with Uber, an up-and-coming ride-sharing company that competes with conventional taxis.
Critics claim that the company does not do enough to vet its drivers.
Yassin said that on Fouhounhedo’s recording the woman can be heard saying “thank you” at the end of the ride. “At the end, she gives him a big hug and a big kiss,” Yassin said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “That’s not somebody who’s in fear of her life.”
“Certainly you are not buddy-buddy with a rapist,” Yassin continued.
He said that Founhounhedo and the woman did go back to his apartment but that “whatever happened there did not arise to anything criminal.”
“I know it wasn’t right what she did,” Yassin added. “My client was the real victim. He had to spent four months behind bars for whatever her motivation was — her own embarrassment, or whatever.”
The Cook County State Attorney’s office issued a statement Monday night about its decision.
“The case was charged in good faith based upon the accounting provided by the complaining witness as well as physical evidence,” the attorney’s office said. “After the charges were approved, new evidence was brought to the attention of the State’s Attorney’s Office. This new evidence was thoroughly reviewed and authenticated and after consultation with the complaining witness the charges were dismissed today.”
“It’s very emotional, I’ve been very emotional the whole time,” Fohounhedo’s wife, Sheena, told ABC Chicago. “I’ll just say that I really thank God for the truth coming out.”
It is not clear if the accuser will face criminal charges.