By Michelle Fitzsimmons
City News Reporter
Police are still searching for the man who sexually assaulted an employee of the Kind Grind coffee shop on the morning of March 19. The assault occurred just after 6 a.m. as a female employee was opening the shop near the Santa Cruz Harbor.
In response to community concerns and questions about the ongoing investigation, the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) and the Commission for the Prevention for Violence Against Women (CPVAW) hosted a community meeting April 18 at the Santa Cruz Bible Church.
Lt. Rudy Escalante gave the audience of about 40, mostly women, a rundown of the investigation thus far and assured them of the police department’s dedication to catching the suspect.
“We will continue examining evidence, continue to review information on possible suspects, continue to follow up on tips and continue to build a case until there is an arrest and conviction,” Escalante said.
The SCPD has enlisted the services of the Santa Cruz Harbor Patrol, the San Jose Police Department, the Department of Justice in Richmond and the FBI, Escalante said.
Capt. Steve Clark explained how members of the SCPD collected a $5,000 reward. Thanks to community donations, the reward now stands at $19,000.
“Every now and then, you work on a case that is just so moving, you work day and night, but you just want to do more to encourage someone to come forward,” Clark said.
Lt. Michael Stern, the meeting’s moderator, echoed the department’s resolve to solve the case.
“We want this person really bad,” he said. “We’re gonna leave the picture of the suspect up to burn this into your memory.”
Donna Ruiz, who has lived on 6th Avenue down by the Harbor for 12 years, has seen a drop in the media attention given to the case since it initially broke.
“What can the police department do to ensure that the suspect’s face will stay out there, and inform the public about the $19,000 reward?” she said. “I believe his best friend would turn him in for that.”
Escalante and Stern assured Ruiz that the police department was in close communication with local media about any new developments.
Discussion of the suspect and investigation was not the only focus of the evening’s meeting. Organizers wanted to emphasize the importance of the community in not only helping investigators, but by helping themselves to not allow another attack to occur.
Kathy Agnone of the CPVAW spoke of her organization’s various efforts to raise safety awareness, such as Denim Day and the self-defense seminars it sponsors.
Following the presentations, a handful of audience members spoke of aggression directed toward them and their neighbors by homeless people and the increase in gang violence they’ve witnessed in recent years.
Beverly DesChaux responded to these comments by revealing a personal tragedy.
“I want to respond to the belief that there are only certain types of people who make these kinds of assaults,” DesChaux said. “I was assaulted by a well-dressed man who was drunk. It’s not just the homeless or the man with a hood on.”
She was saddened by the Kind Grind assault because she knew the victim personally, she said.
“I don’t think people know how dramatically it affects a person’s core and violates their trust in people,” DesChaux said.
Escalante articulated the gathered community’s sentiments. This meeting revealed that it wasn’t just an individual’s trust that was violated, but an entire community’s.
“This has just shattered,” he paused, “everything.”