Girls and young women may walk a little safer in Watsonville now that police have made an arrest in a three-year investigation into sexually-motivated attacks in the city, detectives announced Thursday.
Jose Navarro, 28, is suspected of being "the Groper," a man who approached more than 20 young females from behind, then grabbed their buttocks and groin area, according to Watsonville police.
Navarro, who lives outside of city limits on Browns Valley Road, was arrested Wednesday at his workplace in Marina. He has been jailed on multiple counts of sexual battery; his bail is $155,000.
The attacks he is suspected of have plagued the city since late 2009. Many of the victims were girls younger than 18 who were walking alone. The attacks generally occurred in the late afternoon, sometimes targeting girls who were using headphones that prevented them from hearing the groper approach, according to police.
The investigation was long and cumbersome. Sketches of "the Groper" released to the public generated hundreds of tips that detectives sifted through without success. Undercover female officers were sent out in areas where the Groper was known to strike in an effort to draw him out, but the effort failed to make any headway in the case, according to police.
The key to the case turned out to be a surveillance video from outside La Princesa Market, where the Groper struck on Oct. 20. The video was released to the public and tips poured in that identified Navarro as the prime suspect, according to police.
Investigators reported that Navarro implicated himself in several other sexual assaults following his arrest Wednesday. Those cases involved incidents where the victims had not been located or were not able to identify the assailant. Evidence associated with past sexual assaults was also found at his home, according to police.
Detectives praised the community for cooperating with the investigation and providing valuable information that cracked the case.