WATSONVILLE -- Police have arrested a man suspected of a series of sexual assaults on young women and teens in the city during the past three years.
Jose Navarro, 28, of Browns Valley Road, faces three felony charges and one misdemeanor charge, and additional charges are pending, said Watsonville Police Chief Manny Solano.
He was arrested without incident Wednesday in Marina, and identified by several of his victims, Solano said. Navarro also implicated himself in other attacks, police said.
According to police, women and girls as young as 14 were grabbed and groped in more than 20 attacks since 2009, mostly while victims were walking on the north end of town in the areas of Green Valley Road and Freedom Boulevard. In one incident, the attacker tried to drag a woman into bushes near the Crossroads Shopping Center on Main Street.
"We always were concerned that he might get more aggressive," said Sgt. Saul Gonzalez.
In 2010, police released a sketch of the suspect that provided hundreds of leads. A crime analyst searched for patterns to try to determine where the attacker might strike next. Undercover female officers were sent out as decoys.
But the three-year investigation of the suspect, dubbed by "The Groper" by police, was stymied by the "random and unpredictable" timing of the attacks, said Detective Albert Lopez.
"Some were during the day. Some were at night," Lopez said. "He'd stop for months at a time. He lived
in the community and knew we were on the look out."
A break came when a surveillance camera caught an attack on a 21-year-old woman about 10 p.m. Oct. 20 as she walked into La Princesa Market on Main Street. Police were able to circulate the video through news media, and the community responded with tips that helped detectives identify Navarro.
During a search of Navarro's home, police said they found clothing linking him to the crimes.
Navarro, who police said has lived in the area for at least 10 years, is employed by a San Jose-based trucking company, assisting drivers at job sites. He was working in Marina at the time of his arrest. Because he was dispatched to various locations, Solano said it's possible there are other victims in San Jose and elsewhere in the region. If so, Solano said he hopes media coverage of the arrest will persuade them to speak up. Police also want to hear from victims who reported incidents in Watsonville but have moved out of the area.
"We've removed this individual from the streets, and it's now safe to come forward," Solano said.
Navarro is being held in County Jail on $155,000 bail.
Police ask anyone with information about the groping cases to call the Crime Tip Line at 831-728-3544 or Lopez at 831-768-3361.
Follow Sentinel reporter Donna Jones on Twitter at Twitter.com/DonnaJonesSCS
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