The heroic neighbors – who by their response to screams stopped the sexual assault Sunday night and chased off the assailant – shrugged off their heroics.
Meanwhile, the suspect arrested by police after the assault was arraigned in downtown San Diego, plead not guilty, had his bail set at $300,000, and was scheduled for a Preliminary Hearing on April 10th. He faces possible life in prison if found guilty on his charges of kidnapping and sexual assault.
The now well-known OB incident from Sunday, the 24th – the latest in a string of sexual assaults in Ocean Beach over the last 6 months – occurred around 10:15 pm, as a 26-year-old woman was walking home in the 4800 block of Long Branch Avenue from a dinner at a friend’s house. Long Branch is in the northern sector of OB.
Suddenly, a stranger ran up to her, grabbed her and gave her a bear hug.
Prosecutor Wendy Patrick described it:
“The defendant — a stranger to her — runs up to her, grabs her in a bear hug, drags her 30 to 40 feet to an area of seclusion, and sexually assaults her.
Once the defendant had dragged her into a secluded area, he wrapped a sweater over her eyes so she couldn’t see, and also used the sweater to gag her to some extent as well.”
Patrick, a deputy district attorney, made the statement outside the courtroom on Wednesday, March 27.
Fortunately, despite being partially gagged, the woman was able to yell and scream for help. Several neighbors heard the screams and immediately responded by running to the scene of the attack.
When the assailant was confronted by these neighbors, he fled towards Robb Field, with some neighbors chasing after him. He was tracked down by police – another neighbor had called 9-11 – and Police arrested the suspect less than a half hour after the attack over close to the restrooms at Robb Field. The suspect, a 25-year-old Richard C. Butts was taken into custody.
Later, the neighbors who had chased off the assailant shrugged off their heroics. Neighbor Daniel Laverty told the media:
“I heard a scream, right off the bat, and heard help! Rape!
We were being neighbors. We all love each other, we all look out for each other. That’s what happened.”
Another neighbor, Matt Bruno, also said:
“We didn’t think of nothing, we just heard the scream and came out. I mean why wouldn’t you do that? Of course you’re going to do that.”
Laverty and Bruno were two of the several people who had run to the victim’s aid. DDA Patrick called the neighbors’ response “heartwarming”.
The suspect, Butts, was charged with three felonies: kidnapping with intent to commit sexual assault, forcible oral copulation, and assault with intent to commit sexual assault. The kidnapping charge carries a possible life sentence if he is found guilty.
On Wednesday, March 27th, he was arraigned, pleaded not guilty, with Superior Court Judge David Szumowski setting his bail at $300,000. The Public Defender’s Office was appointed to represent the defendant, plus the judge ordered him to stay away from the woman victim in the case.
Judge Szumowski, the felony arraignment judge, then scheduled a Readiness Conference for April 9, and a Preliminary Hearing on April 10, at the downtown criminal courthouse.
With the arraignment in a criminal case a mere formality, the vast majority of defendants plead ‘not guilty’ at this stage of their case, and especially in such heavy felony cases such as this. The Public Defender’s office is usually appointed by the judge for indigent defendants, which Butts appears to be. All defendants who have the PD office as their lawyer do have to fill out a financial statement to see if they qualify for the “indigent” status. Many defendants are later billed for the work the PD office does on their behalf.
It would not be surprising to this lawyer-blogger that with Butts facing such serious charges with such serious punishment, that his PD attorney obtains a continuance at the Readiness Conference on the 9th of April, and has the Pre Lim of the following day postponed.
In addition, police told the media that they are looking into whether this suspect can be linked to any of the other unsolved half-dozen or so sexual assault crimes that have occurred in Ocean Beach over the last 6 months.