Police say a suspect charged in connection to recent sexual assaults had been on their radar since October, when they put out a public alert to help identify a man who was allegedly exposing himself.
Daniel Leonard, 41, of Red Deer, was charged Thursday with two counts of sexual assault, three counts of an indecent act and three counts of failing to comply with a probation order.
Police released a sketch and description of the person suspected of exposing himself on Oct. 18, after three incidents. Several incidents were also reported to police in November.
“We were actively investigating the incidents we had on file and all of our officers were aware of the description. And the downtown unit as well (was) actively looking for this individual and responding to complaints as they came in,” said Red Deer RCMP Insp. Dean LaGrange on Thursday.
RCMP have not determined if all the alleged offences can be linked to Leonard; the investigation continues.
LaGrange said police were pleased to make an arrest.
“These are serious, traumatic incidents to the victims that it happens to.”
On Wednesday, a 33-year-old woman who spoke to the Advocate said she was assaulted a week ago at lunchtime when she was outside her vehicle at a downtown parking lot.
The victim suggested more could have been done to alert the public to the apparent danger: “I don’t think that’s really fair for people to be walking around their city and not being told this was a problem. I would have liked to have known that.”
A man came up behind her, stuck his hand up her skirt and grabbed her crotch, then ran away. She suspected it was the same man police were looking for.
“Look what happened with this woman. It’s noon. It’s not even dark. Something has to be done. We need prevention. We need to make sure people working in the downtown are safe, so let’s change the conversation,” said Patricia Arango, executive director of the Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre.
She said instead of putting the responsibility on would-be victims to be on alert, it’s time for perpetrators to take responsibility and show some respect.
“I’m happy the victims are coming out and reporting. But let’s do something, because we don’t want more victims. This is a very small community. We can make that happen,” Arango said.
The sexual assault support centre was at Red Deer College on Thursday with its iRespect campaign, which encourages respect for others and respect for yourself. A few people stopping by the booth had heard of the recent assaults in the downtown.
Student Danielle Broen was unaware on the incidents, but said there should be more crime prevention effort in the downtown. She already avoids going there at night, and even during the day, there are parts of downtown she will not go, she said.
“We need to be aware of what’s happening downtown so we can find solutions,” Broen said.
Amanda Gould, executive director of the Red Deer Downtown Business Association, said police appeared to work diligently to catch the suspect and she encouraged business owners to reach out when they see something happen.
“Our businesses are really the eyes and ears of the downtown and they can provide a great deal of intelligence to the RCMP and we encourage them to do that. The RCMP need as many eyes and ears as they can get,” Gould said.
LaGrange, who is head of the new downtown policing unit, said his officers are working to make a difference.
“I think a higher visibility presence in the core can do nothing but benefit the safety and enjoyment of the downtown core for everyone, as well as make it an uncomfortable environment for those looking to prey on others,” LaGrange said.
— With files from Mamta Lulla