Serial groping suspect nabbed at U

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG
  • Star Tribune
  • February 5, 2009 - 7:06 AM

Police and female students alike at the University of Minnesota were relieved Wednesday that a suspected serial groper is sitting in a jail cell, facing at least 10 counts of criminal sexual contact.

"We were kind of on a mission on this -- energized," said University Police Chief Greg Hestness. "This was in your face. People were being victimized," he said.

"It's just seemed bizarre -- not scary, really," said Lynn Wondergem, 19, a sophomore from Milwaukee. "He's grabbing women and taking off. It's like a joke, a sick joke."

The 41-year-old Minneapolis resident was arrested Tuesday night on the university's West Bank campus shortly after a woman reported being grabbed as she walked near the McNamara Alumni Center. Questioned at the university police station, he confessed to grabbing the genital area of 10 female students, said Lt. Nancy Dunlap, head of the Minneapolis Police Department's sex crime unit. He is in the Hennepin County jail and likely will be charged today.

Dunlap said the man has a minor criminal history, "but nothing that would suggest this kind of crime. ...There was no escalation. He'd grope women from behind and they had no idea this guy was behind them. It was a shock. Their sense of security was shaken -- they were traumatized."

All of the assaults took place on the university's Minneapolis campus or on nearby sidewalks, starting on Dec. 9; an 11th occurred Monday in south Minneapolis. In most of the cases, the suspect approached the women on a bicycle. The assaults also occurred at all times of the day and night, "so he certainly wasn't afraid of being seen," Hestness said.

He also said other victims may still come forward, based on the amount of public attention the case has received.

After two women were groped this week, Minneapolis police issued a crime alert and university police increased patrols on the campus as they sent campus-wide notifications to students and staff members.

Two assaults within minutes

About 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, university police dispatchers received a call about a woman who had been touched inappropriately by a man in front of the alumni center.

Police said the suspect was last seen running toward the Aquatics Center, but after checking the East Bank and Dinkytown areas, officers spotted a man who matched the description given by the victim on the West Bank campus.

As the officers arrested the man, dispatchers told them about another groping that had happened about 20 minutes earlier on Washington Avenue SE. in front of Moos Tower. While the suspect was being held in a squad car, the two most-recent victims were taken to the area, where they identified the suspect as their attacker. Both victims are students at the university.

The suspect has no known affiliation with the university, the police department reported.

Although fifth-degree criminal sexual assault is a gross misdemeanor, Hestness said "the trauma here is probably beyond the statutory punishment level."

Walking across campus Wednesday afternoon, Betsy Sandberg, a 19-year-old undergraduate from Minneapolis, said the attacks were "weird, so it's good they caught this guy. I thought a few times about it while I was out, but I made sure I had my pepper spray with me."

Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

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