A man suspected of attacking prostitutes has been charged with two separate cases of assaulting women he believed to be sex workers, including one incident in the basement of a notorious, condemned West River apartment complex
The two arrests have taken place over the past two months. The arrested, a 25-year-old New Haven man, matched the profile of an offender believed to have committed multiple sexual assaults in the Edgewood neighborhood earlier this year, according to police reports.
The police originally received help from the local advocacy group Sex Workers and Allies Network (SWAN) in gathering information that put the suspect on the cops’ radar and led to, at the this point, two separate arrests.
The man remains in jail on $500,000 bond as his cases work their way through the court system. He is being represented by Public Defender Beth Merkin. More cases against him may be in the works.
One incident that SWAN brought to the police’s intention has left three city police officers on administrative duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation into how those officers handled the matter – specifically, why they stopped the suspect and then let him go on the night of an alleged sexual assault.
The police and the state prosecutor’s office have not yet filed charges against the suspect pertaining to that particular incident.
But, according to court records, the police and the state prosecutor have filed two separate sets of charges against the suspect related to two different incidents of alleged sexual assault, both occurring in the Edgewood/West River area, one in the basement of the condemned 66 Norton St. apartment complex.
The city condemned that property in February and ordered the immediate relocation of over 30 families because of the building’s structural disrepair. In the intervening months, the city has praised the property’s landlord, Ernest Schemitsch, for hiring a private security company to keep guard at the still-condemned and cordoned-off building.
The suspect in the attack is related to a former tenant, and may have been a former tenant himself. According to a police report, the cops caught up with him thanks to inadvertent use of a stolen phone’s Google cloud photo account.
Mendy Katz, who manages the property for the Brooklyn-based owner, Ernest Schemitsch, did not respond to requests for comment on the current security at the property.
In the second case, a used condom found in Edgewood Park led to the arrest.
“It’s definitely someone that the women told us about,” SWAN founder Beatrice Codianni said, “and we told the police because they [the sex workers] felt uncomfortable.”
She said that several SWAN sex workers and advocates have met with the police department’s special victims unit over the past few months, and are now more comfortable reaching out to the police because they know that, if they report something to the special victims unit, they’ll be talking with “someone who cares.”
“They feel somebody’s gonna believe them,” Codianni said. “Somebody’s gonna treat them with respect.”
Alleged Rape At 66 Norton
The most recent arrest took place Oct. 26. The state charged the suspect with one count of first-degree sexual assault, one count of second-degree unlawful restraint, one count of first-degree robbery, and one count of second-degree larceny. The suspect’s bail was set at $150,000 for those charges.
A Sept. 28 arrest warrant written by city police Detective Leonardo Soto describes the alleged sexual assault incident that led to the charges.
The report states that Soto and fellow Officer Thomas Blaisdell met up with a victim of alleged sexual assault at her residence early on the morning of Aug. 26. The victim had visited Yale-New Haven Hospital earlier in the morning, where she had been told that she would have to come back later in the morning to receive a sexual assault evidence collection examination.
Soto writes that the victim told him that she had been walking on Norton Street in the early hours of Aug. 26 when she was approached by the alleged offender.
“The victim stated the male subject brandished a black firearm,” the report reads, “put it to her back and directed her to a vacant building. The building was later identified as 66 Norton Street.”
The victim told Soto that the suspect gained access to the building through an unsecured rear door and forced her into the basement with the gun pointed at her back.
In the basement, she told the officers, she noticed a chair and a second chair that she described as a “shower chair.”
The suspect then allegedly raped her, allegedly forcing her to give him oral sex and then to have vaginal/penile sex.
After the suspect finished, she said, he allegedly took her black LG Android cell phone, told her to wait in the basement, and then fled the building.
“After the victim reported the incident,” the report reads, “patrol officers canvassed the area and 66 Norton Street was secured as a crime scene.” In the basement, officers found the “shower chair” and located a clear/white liquid substance on the floor next to the “shower chair.” They didn’t find the victim’s phone.
On Sep. 6, the officers received an audio/video recorded statement from the victim in which the victim told the officers about a new lead on her old phone.
She had recently gotten a new phone and, when she synced her new phone with her old Google cloud account, she immediately saw photographs of the alleged offender.
“The victim told me how her old phone was still connected to her [G]oogle cloud,” Soto writes,” and the photographs the subject was taking were being saved in her [G]oogle cloud.” The photographs were from Aug. 28, ad continued until Aug. 31, when the victim disconnected her stolen phone.
The victim also provided the officers with a phone log, also stored in her Google cloud account, of calls made after her phone had been stolen and before she disconnected service.
One number came up most frequently in that list. That number, city detectives discovered, belonged to a former tenant at 66 Norton. That 66 Norton connection led the police to a previous arrest report for the suspect, which in turn led them to another outstanding arrest warrant with the State of Connecticut.
Finally, on Sept. 15, police located and arrested the suspect. Soto and Detective Joshua Kyle interviewed the suspect at police headquarters at 1 Union Ave.
“Without being given details about the incident,” the report reads, the suspect “stated, ‘I never pointed a gun at her’ and he never forced the female to have sex.’” The suspected told the police that he did not want to pay the victim for sex, so he took her phone and told her to wait in the basement.
He did tell the officers that he kept a black pellet gun at a relative’s residence. The police found that pellet gun and, on Sept. 17, the victim identified the suspect in a blind shuffle photograph lineup at police headquarters.
On Sept. 14, soon before locating and arresting the suspect, the police and state prosecutor charged the same suspect in another incident of alleged sexual assault regarding a woman he believed to be a sex worker.
For that incident, the police and state charged him with first-degree sexual assault, first-degree unlawful restraint, and second-degree threatening. His bail for these charges was set at $500,000.
In a Sept. 14 police report, Detective Kyle writes that on May 29 he received a sexual assault with a firearm complaint for an incident that occurred on May 24 near the intersection of Edgewood Avenue and Ella T. Grasso Boulevard inside Edgewood Park.
On May 31, Kyle interviewed the victim. The victim stated that she was at a friend’s house in the neighborhood on the night of May 24.
When she left her friend’s place, she began to walk down Whalley Avenue, but went the wrong way because she had been drinking. She ended up near the intersection of Edgewood and Ella T. Grasso Boulevard, where she was approached by the suspect.
“The male then ran behind her yelling ‘lady lady,’” the report reads, “at which point she began to walk faster away from him.” The suspect asked her if she wanted anything to drink and told her he had E&J and coke in his cup. She said she refused the drink.
“She said she thought he might have been looking for a ‘working girl,’” Kyle writes, “but didn’t mention anything about propositioning her for sex. She said she used to be a working girl but does not live that life anymore.”
The suspect then grabbed her by the neck and dragged her into the park. He pulled out a gun and threatened to kill her if she said anything.
She said he brought her to a bench behind the bus stop, made her pull down her pants, and then raped her.
When he finished, he ran down the Boulevard towards Whalley. She called the police, who were not able to locate the suspect that night. But she did let the police know about a condom the alleged offender had used and discarded. The police then found that condom where the victim had indicated it had been discarded.
The police sent the used condom to the Department of Public Safety Forensic Science Laboratory for a DNA test.
“On 9/11/18,” the report reads, “while assisting Del. L. Soto with a separate sexual assault with a firearm investigation we developed a suspect for his case. The offender from Det. L. Soto’s case matched the MO of multiple sexual assaults in the same area of New Haven. The MO from his case matched to The Victim’s sexual assault which had occurred months earlier.”
Later that day, the victim picked out the suspect in a photo array at the police headquarters.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ocean Management owns 66 Norton St. The actual owner of 66 Norton is Ernest Schemitsch.