A multi-state search is underway for man accused of raping a female acquaintance. The alleged rape took place inside a public bathroom at the criminal courthouse in Burlington, Vermont.
Robert Rosario, 32, allegedly attacked the woman inside a second-floor bathroom at the busy Costello Courthouse. According to police paperwork, Rosario told the woman, "Don't scream, be quiet" before raping her in a ladies' room stall.
Investigators said in documents filed with the court that they gathered evidence from the bathroom including a fingerprint on the stall door inside the ladies' room that matched Rosario’s. The suspect is believed to have fled Vermont, police said.
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"This is obviously a very disturbing and scary event," said Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan, who works in the building.
Donovan said he will have to step aside from any eventual prosecution of the case, because female members of his staff and other women who work inside the courthouse felt harassed, threatened and intimidated by Rosario from encounters earlier in the morning. In his place, the Vermont Attorney General's office will handle the prosecution, Donovan said.
"You never expect when you come to work at the courthouse that you'd be the victim of a crime, but unfortunately, that seems to be the case here," Donovan said of some women on his staff as well as other female employees in the building who were harassed.
The alleged victim was not a courthouse employee, police paperwork indicated. She knew Rosario by his street name of "Z," according to the documents. Rosario was in the building for a hearing on alleged drug dealing, according to court papers.
Donovan said that in his 13 years as a prosecutor, he has never seen a situation like this.
Another woman at the court was questioned after her suggestion this was a false report, and that instead, the bathroom encounter was a drug deal. However, the Burlington Police Department is treating the allegations as authentic and as evidence a very serious crime took place in the bathroom.
The alleged rape took place a full week ago, on Oct. 16, but the public only learned about it late Thursday, when the Burlington Free Press published an article about an arrest warrant being filed for Rosario.
Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo told necn police often keep quiet in acquaintance rape cases as an investigative technique.
"When somebody allegedly rapes somebody known to them, one of the best ways to pursue them is to do it quietly, have them let their guard down, and then make an arrest," del Pozo explained, adding the investigators at the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations have excellent training and have pursued Rosario thoroughly and professionally.
"Hopefully he'll be in custody soon," del Pozo said, noting the search for Rosario has now extended beyond Vermont.
Del Pozo declined to say where investigators are searching for the alleged rapist, because he said he didn't want to risk having Rosario run away and slip through police's fingers. Del Pozo did say he believes the suspect has fled Vermont.
Rosario is from the Bronx, according to police paperwork. Federal investigators are assisting in the multi-state search for Rosario, del Pozo said.
Cathleen Barkley, the executive director of the non-profit HOPE Works, works with survivors of sexual violence. She said more than 60 percent of survivors are victimized by acquaintances.
"Some of the attention around this case has shifted towards the actions of law enforcement or perhaps the actions of media, and I feel like part of that shifts the focus away from the fact that there was a sexual assault in our community and we should all be upset about that, versus focusing on who did what at what time," Barkley said in response to an necn question about whether she thought the community should have been notified about the crime earlier.
Barkley said she hopes the case refocuses the public's attention on the need to reduce instances of sexual violence across communities. For more information on how HOPE Works aims to end sexual violence, visit its website.