The Dallas Morning News

Rape alert’s timing debated

Some decry police for waiting; chief says tying cases took time

- By TANYA EISERER and SCOTT GOLDSTEIN Staff Writers

Dallas Police Chief David Brown on Wednesday defended the timing of his department’s warning that a se- rial rapist may be on the prowl near Fair Park, saying it wasn’t until Tuesday that detectives connected the first two rapes in June to five that occurred more recently.

The chief spoke as an eighth victim came forward Wednesday, saying she had been attacked Aug. 28. Police have requested expedited analysis of DNA samples, formed a task force, ramped up police presence and scheduled a community meeting for Thursday evening.

“My mother lives in this neighborho­od, and I can assure you this department will do any and everything possible to catch this sus-

pect,” Brown said.

The decision to hastily call a news conference Tuesday night to announce that there had been seven rapes since June 22 ignited a flurry of criticism from City Council members, rape victims’ advocates and community members who said police should have alerted the public much sooner. Some wondered if the response would have been the same if the assaults had occurred north of Interstate 30.

‘A heightened threat’

“Why did it have to be proved that it’s a serial rapist” before warning the community? asked Gwendolyn Jones, founder of ARISE! Internatio­nal, a support group for sexual assault victims that serves parts of southern Dallas County. “They should have, in my opinion, informed the public that there was a heightened threat in that neighborho­od.”

City Council member Carolyn Davis, who represents that part of the city, said she wasn’t briefed on the assaults until Wednesday morning. She said police told her they hadn’t been able to reach her Tuesday.

After speaking with Brown on Wednesday, she said the public should have been alerted in June.

“They should have put it out the time it happened with the first two individual­s,” Davis said. “We have to do a better job.”

Deputy Chief Michael Coleman, commander of the southeast patrol division, said Wednesday that officers are now going door to door circulatin­g fliers. Police also have alerted crime watches and asked churches to spread the word.

Police have stepped up patrols and are deploying plaincloth­es officers in the vicinity.

‘We are out there’

“We want the citizens to be comfortabl­e that we are out there and that we are doing our jobs,” Coleman said. “Any leads that come in are being immediatel­y followed up.”

The attacks have been similar: A man wielding a gun approaches a woman, typically in the early morning. He de- mands money. He forces her into a vacant lot or wooded area and rapes her.

He’s described as black, 25 to 30 years old and weighing 180 to 200 pounds. He covers his face and sometimes wears oval, gold-rimmed prescripti­on glasses. Witnesses have said he drove a gray four-door Honda Civic and a gray older Volvo with tinted windows.

The first reported assault occurred June 22 on Metropolit­an Avenue. The next occurred June 30 about two miles away on Malcolm X Boulevard.

Police said those cases were not immediatel­y and definitely linked. More than seven weeks passed before the next reported rapes. Investigat­ors think the attacker may have been off the streets, possibly in jail, during that time.

The rapes resumed Aug. 20 when two women were attacked on Spring Avenue. Four more rapes were reported in quick succession over 11 days.

But police officials said they didn’t decide they probably had a serial rapist on their hands until Tuesday, two days after another rape on Spring Avenue.

Too traumatize­d to talk

Brown said one reason for the delay was that rape victims are often in shock and not ready for some time to talk to detectives. Investigat­ors still had been able to talk to only two of the victims as of Tuesday, police said.

“We have to give them time to where they’re comfortabl­e to come forward with that infor- mation,” Brown said.

Courtney Underwood, cofounder of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, said she didn’t see why it mattered whether the attacks were connected since police knew violent sexual assaults were going on in a concentrat­ed area.

“Letting the community know is something that should have happened long ago, and it’s scary that they didn’t,” Underwood said.

South and north

Somone Reese, a South Dallas resident, said she couldn’t help but wonder if the delay in telling the public had something to do with where the rapes happened.

“They probably didn’t because it’s South Dallas and that would have seemed common or something,” Reese said.

Brown said: “We’re not treating southern Dallas any differentl­y than we’re treating northern Dallas. … We’re a little offended by that conjecture that we might be.”

Coleman, the police commander over the area, also defended the timing of the public announceme­nt.

“We want to make sure when we put out informatio­n that it’s accurate,” he said. To do otherwise would be a disservice, he added.

Unnerved, on guard

Those who work and live in the area say the assaults have them unnerved and on guard.

“These crimes are a very terrifying and devastatin­g thing to this area,” said Karen Dudley, pastor of Dallas Internatio­nal Street Church. “This man could be within our community, sitting with us on our porches.”

Adjwoa Hogue, 22, who works in her family’s store in the area, said the alert has prompted her to change her routine.

“I used to jog in the early mornings in Fair Park,” she said. “I’m now at a gym instead.”

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