Residents: Broken Front Door May Have Let Suspect Into LES Building

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Police late Thursday were undertaking a frantic search for a man they believe is behind a rape, attempted rape, and robbery all over the span of three hours on the Lower East Side.

Authorities said the suspect first struck around 5:40 a.m. when he followed the 33-year-old victim into her apartment building on James Street. They said the suspect tried to rape and rob the woman, but she fought him off and he fled.

The second attack happened around 7:40 a.m. at an apartment building on Broome Street. Police said the suspect, again, followed the victim into the building and grabbed her by the shoulders, taking her ID from her hand. The victim screamed and the suspect took off, police said.

But authorities said in the third attack, the suspect was already waiting in the stairwell of the woman’s public housing development building.

As CBS2’s Matt Kozar reported, the assailant might have gotten into the building because of a problem neighbors were begging to have fixed. The lock on the front door had been broken for some time, and police believed it may have allowed the suspect to get in.

Crime scene investigators photographed the front door to the building in the Baruch Houses New York City Housing Authority development, at 577 FDR Dr. near Delancey Street and the Williamsburg Bridge.

Around 8:45 a.m. on Thursday, police said a man followed a 40-year-old woman from the elevator and forced his way into her apartment, where he sexually assaulted her and stole her cellphone before running off.

Maria Rodriguez and others told CBS2 the victim is hearing-impaired, and may not initially have heard the attacker.

“When I came yesterday, there was a guy standing there, looking through that door — inside that staircase, looking out — and it was weird,” Rodriguez said. “And I looked at him, and he got a black jacket.”

Surveillance Video Of Lower East Side Rape Suspect

Investigators dusted the apartment door for fingerprints.

“She’s a really nice person,” a neighbor said.

“It shouldn’t happen,” said neighbor Ariel Seton. “Like, the door should be fixed so nobody could come in.”

Seton was one of several residents who told CBS2 about the broken front door at the building. She said it has been that way for weeks.

One of the police investigators told CBS2 off camera that he was frustrated that the door was broken. So were residents.

“I’m always looking behind me before I come into the building, so nobody’s following me,” Seton said.

LES rape pattern suspect

Police are searching for this man in connection with a rape, an attempted rape and a robbery in the Lower East Side on Nov. 12, 2015 (Credit: NYPD)

After CBS2 showed up and started shooting video, a NYCHA worker tried to fix the door – but was not able to do so. There are cameras in the lobby, but that was not enough to deter the attack.

“Every once in a while there’s been something, but like a sexual assault in the building?” said resident Ramon Torres. “I haven’t heard that in a long time.”

In an email late Thursday, NYCHA told CBS2 that it “takes the safety of our residents seriously, and today, senior staff visited Baruch Houses to assess the security measure.”

NYCHA said the Baruch Houses are equipped with closed-circuit television, and the NYPD will work with NYCHA to identify anyone suspected in the attack.

But residents at the Baruch Hoses said they do not feel safe.

“I don’t feel safe anymore now that I hear about that,” one resident said.

“You’re not safe anymore, you know? So you’re scared for your families,” said Yolanda Cabral.

After working for hours on the broken front door lock late Thursday, NYCHA crews fixed it.

NYCHA said they had no open complaints about the broken locks, but residents said they got tired of complaining about it because the locks kept breaking.