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article imageNYPD officer charged with rape of teacher eyed in other attacks

By Shawn Kay     Sep 2, 2011 in Crime
New York - New York City Police Department detectives are investigating whether a police officer arrested on charges of allegedly raping a school teacher at gunpoint on a Manhattan street earlier last month is a serial rapist.
Michael Pena, the New York City police officer arrested on charges of raping a school teacher at gunpoint in upper Manhattan last month, is currently the subject of an inquiry by detectives who suspect that he may be a serial rapist, the New York Daily News reports.
News of Pena being investigated for his connection with other rapes was made public last Thursday by police commissioner Ray Kelly.
"Investigators have picked out some [cases] that they think have the potential of having been perpetrated by this individual," Kelly said at a press conference at police headquarters.
According to Kelly, investigators were specifically looking at two cases, but it was not immediately clear which ones.
Police released few details on the other attacks and didn't say where the other unsolved sex assaults occurred.
Neighborhood politicians throughout the city have also asked for any other victims to come forward, but it's not clear if any have.
Meanwhile, Pena is being held at Rikers Island on the initial criminal charges stemming from his alleged gunpoint rape of a school teacher.
Early Morning Assault
According to prosecutors and police officials, at 6:45 a.m. on August 19, an off-duty and drunk Pena, prowled the streets of Inwood and approach a 25-year-old teacher as she was heading to work at a school in the Bronx.
Pena asked the woman for directions to the No. 1 subway train before putting his arm around her and brandishing his department-issued 9-mm handgun at her.
"You're coming with me," he told the woman, according to officials.
The sloshed off-duty cop forced the woman to walk with him several blocks until they came upon a driveway leading to a vacant courtyard behind a apartment building on Park Terrance West. Police say, it was there that Pena dragged the victim into the courtyard and raped and sodomized her.
During the attack, Pena took the woman's cell phone and threw it up onto a rooftop to prevent her from immediately contacting the police or anyone else for assistance after the crime.
Several residents living in apartments in the building adjacent to the courtyard were awoken by the commotion caused by Pena and his victim. Several residents looked outside their windows and saw Pena having intercourse with the victim.
Many of the eyewitnesses viewing the sex act from their apartment windows had no idea that it was not consensual until they saw Pena's firearm which he had placed on the ground while assaulting the woman. It was at that point the eyewitnesses called police.
According to the local Manhattan online news service, DNAinfo.com, an area resident who was one of the eyewitnesses and spoke to the news agency under the condition of anonymity due to safety concerns, said he was asleep in his apartment when he was awoken by loud noises outside his window. When he went to his window to investigate the source of the noise he saw what appeared to be a man and woman outside having sex.
Disgusted and unaware that an actual rape was underway, the man confronted Pena, saying, “Dude, I live here.” To which Pena reportedly responded by holding up his hand, saying, "Just give me a minute."
The witness said he then noticed the suspect, who flashed a badge at some point, holding a gun to the woman's head. The witness then called the police.
Prosecutors say that when responding officers from the 34th Precinct arrived on the scene, they caught Pena with his pants - literally.
According to Paul J. Browne, NYPD's Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, as officers approached Pena, the woman warned the officers, "Be careful, he has a gun." The officers tackled Pena and placed him under arrest.
It was not until after his arrest that the victim and officers at the scene discovered Pena was an actual police officer.
Arresting officers at the scene discovered the suspect's police identification and badge while searching his pockets.
Pena was immediately suspended without pay by the NYPD after the arrest and charged with rape.
The woman was taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia where she was treated for the assault.
One resident living in the area and interviewed by the media appeared to be very bothered by the incident. "Who knows, it could have been me, the 32-year-old woman told DNAinfo. "It’s really bothersome that someone who is supposed to be protecting the citizens would do something like that."
There is evidence that the sheer brazenness and depravity of this crime is beginning to have a corrosive effect on the public's trust in the NYPD, especially among the city's female population.
Another resident of the area interviewed by DNAinfo, real estate broker Susanna Saarinen, 43, said that she might be hesitant to call police in light of what allegedly happened.
"If this happens in broad daylight and it's a cop, then where are we safe," she asked. "You're a cop. You're supposed to have different moral standards and be a role model. You're not supposed to be one of the bad guys."
Prior to his arrest, Pena had three years of service on the police force and was assigned to the 33rd Precinct in upper Manhattan.
The 33rd Precinct is located in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights and is immediately south of Inwood.
Inwood is the northernmost area of Manhattan and is within the boundaries of the 34th Precinct which provides police patrols and services for that area.
While criminal activity within the Inwood community varies depending on certain streets and areas, the Park Terrace West area notably stands out from the rest of Inwood.
Park Terrace West is a short stretch of road in the Manhattan northern end and is often described as giving residents and visitors alike the feeling as if they were miles away from the bustle of the rest of Manhattan.
Residents take pride in the quaint atmosphere of their closely-knit enclave.
The residents there are in a state of disbelief that a violent crime like that of rape could take place in their tranquil community and by a police officer no less.
The area reportedly has a high number of residents who are employed in the education profession.
According to one woman interviewed by the media, she said that many teachers, as the alleged victim is, live in the area because it's reasonably priced and close to schools in The Bronx.
Indictment On Rape Charges
Pena was indicted at his arraignment by a grand jury in Manhattan criminal court last Wednesday for the gunpoint rape.
The suspect's family turned out in big numbers to show their support and packed three rows of benches in the courtroom. Many of the family members were wearing sunglasses and weeping, as prosecutors laid out their case against the suspect.
Pena and his family learned the full extent of the charges against him which include: one count of first degree rape, two counts of criminal sex act in the first degree and three counts of predatory sexual assault.
If convicted of the charges he faces anywhere from 10 years to life in prison.
The suspect's defense attorney, Juan Campos, described his client to the judge as "soft-spoken" and "peaceful."
If any of the allegations were true, at least some of the behavior could be explained by alcohol, Campos said.
"I’m not saying alcohol excuses the behavior if it is true, but it may explain certain behaviors,” he added.
Campos' co-counsel, defense attorney Martin Goldberg, attempted to portray his client as harmless and without ill intentions.
“There is absolutely no doubt that there was no intent on the part of Michael Pena to hurt anyone,” Goldberg said. “There was certainly no intent to sexually abuse anybody on that day.”
Goldberg would not comment to the press on whether his client planned to argue that he had consensual intercourse with his accuser.
Pena is currently being held at Rikers Island, the city's main jail complex, on $500,000 cash bail or $1 million bond.
Pena's lawyers said his family could not afford to make the bail or bond.
The cop turned inmate is due back for another appearance in Manhattan criminal court on September 21, where he is expected to plead not guilty to the charges before him.
Alleged Rape Cop's Jailhouse Interview
In an exclusive interview to the New York Daily News from Rikers Island two weeks ago on Sunday, August 21, Pena expressed fears that the Manhattan District Attorney's Office is going to try and "make an example" out of him over what he now refers to as a "misunderstanding."
During the interview the Daily News quoted Pena as saying, "The DA is arresting cops, indicting cops. They're trying to make an example out of me."
Pena was making a direct reference to another case in which two NYPD officers were accused of raping a 28 year-old fashion executive for several hours in her apartment this past Spring.
In that particular incident, Officers Kenneth Moreno, 41, and Franklin Mata, 26, of the 9th police precinct were acquitted of charges they raped the fashion executive after being summoned to help her home when she became very drunk during a night out celebrating a promotion.
The officers, where originally facing rape and burglary charges but were acquitted of those charges and convicted on lesser charges of official misconduct (a misdemeanor offense) for repeatedly returning to the woman's apartment while telling police dispatchers they were elsewhere.
Though the two officers were fired by the NYPD just hours after being found guilty of official misconduct, the verdict itself remains wildly unpopular with most New Yorkers who believed the officers to be guilty and deserving of a prison sentence. The verdict also blemished the reputation of the NYPD nationally.
Pena, who has a home in the town of Yonkers and just recently got engaged to his longtime girlfriend had this to say of his life prior to his arrest, "Everything was fine—perfect—before that day."
A few days after the jailhouse interview Pena's lawyers were in full damage control mode as they tried to back off comments Pena made to the Daily News.
When asked to explain his clients comments about the DA's office, Campos replied, "It was pure frustration, he was upset. He's never been in a situation like this before."
Campos also added, "I told him not to speak to you guys anymore!"
Defendant in 2009 Police Brutality Civil Suit
Police commissioner Kelly called the rape "a very, very disturbing case," and said the department has also been scrutinizing Pena's department records and his screening process.
Kelly was quoted as saying, "I met with psychologists, the head of applicant processing - everyone that was involved with his coming into the department. We found nothing remarkable, nothing exceptional in his background, that in hindsight should have been done."
For whatever reason, Kelly neglected to mention that Pena was named as a defendant in a 2009 civil suit that cost the city of New York $25,000. Though it is not clear if he was aware of this fact at the time he was making his statements to the press regarding this case.
According to the New York Post, the civil suit was filed by a Anthony Mosley and alleges acts of brutality that were perpetrated against him by Pena and another officer after they arrested him at a building on 132nd Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem in 2009.
DNAinfo further notes the court documents as saying, Pena and the other officer allegedly used excessive force in detaining Mosley, causing "serious physical injuries."
The documents also say that the officers conducted a body cavity search which caused Mosley to suffer "humiliation, emasculation and loss of dignity."
"The...unlawful strip search and false imprisonment was so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community," the 2010 complaint says.
NYPD spokesmen Paul Browne noted to the news media that the case was settled without any admission of wrongdoing by the officers.
However, the courts forced the city to pay Mosley $25,000 as part of the terms of agreement in the settlement.
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