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People have the right to be kept reasonably safe at work, when in a hospital or nursing home, in retail establishments, or at school. When sexual assault occurs in the workplace, nursing homes, hospitals, parking lots, convenience stores, casinos, schools or other facilities, not only the assailant but also the property owners and managers may be liable.

A former San Mateo police officer was arrested Thursday for sexually assaulting five women while he was supposed to be on duty. One of his victims was just a girl 17 years of age. Prosecutors say that he very carefully selected targets he considered “vulnerable” who just happened to be in isolated places. Winchester allegedly assaulted the first two women in Sacramento, California’s state capital, where he was working at the time as a police officer charged with protecting a community college district, according to prosecutors.

 Noah Winchester is charged with 22 felony counts, which include kidnapping, sexual assault, rape and a number of other crimes, all the result of five separate alleged incidents dating back to 2013.

San Mateo district attorney Stephen Wagstaffe described all the victims as, “vulnerable young women whom he thought would never come forward to report the crimes.”

One of those two attacks was during the summer of 2013 when the victim was just a 17-year-old girl who happened to be near campus at the time, Wagstaffe said. 

“He ordered her to get into his police car, and that’s where he sexually assaulted her,” the prosecutor added.

Three subsequent assaults occurred while Winchester was on duty, working as a police officer in San Mateo in September and October of 2015.

His five victims range in age from 17 to 35 years old and are of several different races, according to Wagstaffe. They all seemed to have a common thread and that was that they appeared disadvantaged or particularly vulnerable in some aspect. A few might have been homeless or otherwise appeared to be “going through a tough time,” he went on to say.

Winchester, who is now locked up on $3 million bail is facing the possibility of a life sentence. At the time, he didn’t arrest any of his victims and didn’t turn in any incident reports involving the interactions he had with them, according to Wagstaffe. The officer was apparently alone and in uniform during all five incidents and made various statements to each of the women before the assaults occurred.

He allegedly attacked these women in several different locations, including a parking lot and a motel room, prosecutors say.

“He would first get the women into his car and then move them to someplace else to avoid being seen,” Wagstaffe said.

Winchester submitted his resignation to the San Mateo Police Department in February while he was being investigated. He stands accused of sexually assaulting one woman, attempting to rape another woman, and of raping three of the victims. 

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In a number of cases, Winchester allegedly touched the women while he had them “unlawfully restrained,” says the 19-page indictment.

In one incident that happened in San Mateo, he is described as going into an “inhabited dwelling” where he proceeded to assault his victim.  

The complaint goes on to say that Winchester was able to commit the assaults by “threatening to incarcerate his victims using his authority as a police officer.” In one case, he came right out and threatened to put his victim under arrest, according to Wagstaffe.

In one assault that occurred in Sacramento, Winchester threatened the woman “with a crime that would cause great bodily injury and perhaps death,” the complaint states. In that incident, which resulted in “forcible oral copulation,” he allegedly used the tactics of “duress, force, menace, violence and the fear of immediate unlawful bodily injury of the named victim and someone else.”

In one of the incidents where he was not accused of rape, Winchester stopped his assault once his victim began to cry, according to Wagstaffe.

It wasn’t until the end of 2015 that the first victim reported the assault, and as the investigation proceeded more crimes were uncovered. One victim had discussed her assault on Facebook, according to Wagstaffe.

Prosecutors say it’s very possible there are more victims, saying, “We now have two incidents that occurred in 2013, nothing in 2014, then three more in 2015, which seems odd.”

The DA said he hopes that these charges would encourage other victims to come forward, if indeed there are more victims out there.

The Associated Press conducted an investigation last year that uncovered similar cases of sexual assault, rape and sodomy, involving about 1,000 officers in the U.S. These police officers ended up losing their badges during a six-year period. The AP said this number was “without a doubt an undercount.” In fact, California did not figure into the statistics by the AP because CA has no uniform system in place statewide to decertify police officers for misconduct, according to the AP.

The San Mateo Police Department said that Winchester joined the force in early 2015 and was placed on an indefinite leave once the department was informed of the allegations.

“While we understand that Winchester is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law, we as law enforcement officials are simply appalled by the seriousness of the allegations,” the police department relayed in a statement. “These abhorrent actions, if proven to be true, are a disgrace to the badge and entirely disavowed by the San Mateo Police Department and our city.”

After the local affiliate of ABC7 News first reported the story on Winchester in May, Susan Manheimer, San Mateo’s police chief, released an open letter in which she said: “We as a law enforcement agency understand that just the thought of a police officer committing crimes while wearing their SMPD uniform is profoundly troubling and extremely offensive to everyone in this department.”

A school newspaper in Sacramento came out with a profile on Winchester in 2014. In the article the officer is said to have told student reporter, “I will do everything I can to keep our students safe.”

It is still not clear whether Winchester had hired an attorney yet. 

If you have been a victim of a sexual assault, you also have the right to seek compensation for your physical injuries, long-term emotional injuries and other losses. The personal injury attorneys at O'Connor, Runckel & O'Malley have more than 50 years of experience in representing victims of sexual assault. Contact our law offices to speak with an attorney in confidence.

(Source: The Guardian)

Published on behalf of O'Connor, Runckel & O'Malley LLP


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