An Edina High School graduate and University of Wisconsin-Madison, student is charged with sexually assaulting five women in a criminal case that quickly expanded Thursday after a complaint was filed in one case last week.
In a hearing Thursday, the number of charges against Alec R. Cook, 20, grew from nine counts involving one woman to 15 involving four others. The criminal complaint includes 11 charges of sexual assault in cases that span from March 2015 to October 2016. Cook, who is 6 feet and weighs 190 pounds, also was charged with false imprisonment and strangulation and suffocation.
Cook pleaded not guilty to the charges and is being held in Dane County jail. Cash bail was set at $200,000. If he can post bail, a hearing will be scheduled to determine whether any conditions will be imposed before he is released, said District Attorney Ismael Ozanne.
Ozanne said he couldn’t discuss additional details about the charges, saying it’s an “ongoing case.” Police are continuing their investigation, he said.
Since charges were announced last week, “dozens” of other women have come forward with allegations against Cook, according to a search warrant.
Christopher Van Wagner, Cook’s attorney, issued a statement before Thursday’s hearing urging the public to wait for all of the facts before condemning Cook, who has cooperated with police. “You would do the same for your own,” Van Wagner said.
Wagner said the rapid-fire internet news cycle “erodes the presumption of innocence” and has resulted in a modern-day character assassination that is “very real and very wrong.”
UW-Madison has placed Cook, a senior majoring in real estate and urban land economics, under “emergency suspension” in the wake of the allegations. Cook is also “banned from setting foot on any campus lands” as part of his bail conditions, campus officials said.
Cook is a 2014 graduate of Edina High School, where he played rugby.
According to the amended complaint, Cook knew the five women because they had been in class together or they had met socially. In some of the cases, the women began a consensual relationship with him. But according to the complaint, those encounters with him quickly changed.
One woman told police she was sexually assaulted over several hours and strangled to the point of near unconsciousness. She told investigators that she was afraid that if she fought back harder, he would further injure her. “I’m afraid to really fight because of his size and strength,” she told investigators.
Cook denied the allegations during an interview with police.
Another woman described an initially consensual encounter that changed with him using force. At one point, she said he pressed on her throat. He let go when she asked him to stop, but then resumed, choking her with both hands, the complaint said. The woman told the investigator that she pulled his hands off her neck and pushed him off with her knee.
One woman, who said she dated Cook in January and February, described being sexually assaulted by Cook in his downtown apartment. She told the investigator that she wanted to “just forget” about what had happened and feel normal again. She described becoming more withdrawn, less social and depressed, prompting her to see a therapist.
She said didn’t report the assault immediately because “I felt ashamed to tell anyone, because I thought it would make him look bad,” she told the investigator. But after seeing a recent news story that Cook had been arrested on charges of assaulting a woman earlier in October, she said she “was empowered by another girl being able to tell what happened to her, that I thought I could now finally tell.”
One woman described being touched inappropriately by Cook during a ballroom class. She said that he grabbed her breasts and that eventually his behavior “turned into groping and got worse.”
Madison police investigator Grant Humerickhouse said that during a search of Cook’s apartment, he found a black leather book that included a series of women’s names, followed by descriptions of how Cook met the women and what he liked about them.
“The entries went on to document what he wanted to do with the females,” Humerickhouse said. “Disturbingly enough, there were statements of ‘kill’ and statements of ‘sexual’ desires.”
An Edina police spokesperson said Thursday that they have not received any complaints from women about Cook. Police cited him for underage drinking in April 2014, when they were called to his home, where others also were cited.