Monday, February 28, 2011

In Minneapolis-St. Paul, woman with Down syndrome sexually assaulted on city bus

From The Pioneer-Press in Minn.

A 19-year-old woman with Down syndrome — accompanied by an apparently oblivious personal attendant — was coerced into giving oral sex on a Metro Transit bus to a St. Paul man, who later tried to get her to leave with him, authorities said.

The incident, recorded on the bus's video and detailed in a criminal complaint filed in Ramsey County district court Feb. 25, resulted in charges against Herbert Lee House III, 22, on two counts of criminal sexual conduct.

The victim boarded the Route 64 bus — which threads through St. Paul's downtown and Payne-Phalen neighborhoods — at 10:22 a.m. Tuesday, and sat toward the rear. She was "with other vulnerable adults and a personal care attendant," the compliant said.

House, who had boarded earlier and was sitting in a seat facing the victim, got out of his seat and came to sit beside her, according to the complaint's description of video footage. The two hugged, and the victim placed her head on House's shoulder, before they switched seats, with House now sitting by the window.

At 10:30 a.m., the victim gave House oral sex — an act witnessed by two teenagers who later contacted police, according to the complaint.

Four minutes later, somewhere along Payne Avenue, House got off the back door of the bus and motioned for the victim to follow, which she did. But as soon as she was out the door, her attendant yelled for her to "get back on the bus," which she also did, the complaint



said — and House followed.
The victim then sat in a different seat, shaken and apparently crying, the compliant said. It was unclear from the complaint when House finally left the bus.

The victim — described in the compliant as "totally dependent on others for her well-being" — was a student at St. Paul's Transition to Independence School, part of the St. Paul public school district, for whom the attendant worked.

The attendant told investigators that she remembered the victim trying to leave the bus, but "she had no idea that (the victim) had been sexually assaulted in the rear of the bus," the compliant said.

St. Paul Public School district spokesman Howie Padilla said he had just been made aware of the complaint late Friday and did not know the personal attendant's current status with the district.

As for how the attendant did not notice the alleged contact between House and the victim — including hugging, the victim placing her head on House's shoulder, and House placing his arm around the victim's shoulder, prior to the oral sex — Padilla said "Honestly, we're looking into that as well."

"I would say that that person has some explaining to do," said Jack Rhodes, spokesman for the Ramsey County attorney's office.

When asked, Padilla said he did not know how many other vulnerable adults the attendant was in charge of on the day of the incident.

Metro Transit police recognized House from the bus's footage. He had been charged on February 7 in another case involving "unwanted touching of a woman in the Sixth and Minnesota Transit Center," the complaint said.

When brought in for questioning, House said that he knew the victim appeared to have Down syndrome, but said she approached him and was being "too friendly" and touching him. He denied having the victim perform oral sex, but when told that the act had been witnessed said "she was just having trouble breathing," then said "he did not remember because he was in the 'zone.'"

Metro Transit officials released a statement Friday saying the organization "regrets this deplorable incident, but is very grateful to the customers who reported it," referring to the teenage witnesses. "The actions of these customers ultimately led to the arrest and charging of this individual."

House was booked into Ramsey County jail Thursday, where he remained Friday evening with bail set at $60,000. He is due in the county's district court Monday.