June 12, 2007 - Posted at 5:22 p.m. CDT
HOWELL COUNTY, MO -- Pulled over or fooled? That's a question motorists in Howell County are facing as they look for a man suspected of posing as law enforcement pulling over two women in the last week.
The most recent case happened Sunday night outside of West Plains about 30 minutes north of the Arkansas border. According to the Howell County Sheriff, it appears the suspect is targeting young women. Early last week a 29-year-old woman was pulled over outside of West Plains and sexually assaulted by the man. Now the latest case Sunday night, involved an 18-year-old girl.
"Basically if it doesn't seem right or you are not sure we don't want you to stop, we want you to acknowledge that there is an officer or a potential officer and we want you to head back to town," said Howell County Sheriff Robbie Crites.
Crites is urging both motorists and law enforcement to have patience with traffic stops as they continue to look for a light to tan color four door passenger car posing as the police.
"This vehicle has a very small interior light and is not marked in any way," said Crites.
The suspect is described as a while male, 5'8" to 5'10" with a stock build and short hair. He was seen wearing a blue shirt with a badge and is doing more than citizen's arrests.
"Both females were pulled out of their vehicle, the first one was sexually assaulted, the second female was able to fight and get away," said Crites.
The second incident happened Sunday night around 10:30 on Highway CC about six miles outside of West Plains and while it is not a surprise that both cases happened in rural settings, it is surprise that both were on well traveled roads.
"We have two or three persons of interest based upon their physical appearance and their access to a particular kind of car or their knowledge of the area," said Crites.
While the sheriff's department continues their investigation they actively trying to make sure everyone in the community is aware of this problem. They sent an email to all students at Missouri State University-West Plains alerting them of the problem.
"When I first read it, it made me kind of nervous but they told everything about the guy and said what you could do to prevent from being attacked," said 18-year-old Brenda Brawley.
Brawley is a freshman student at the school says if she didn't receive the email from the sheriff, she is not sure she would have known what to do if pulled over by a questionable car.
"I feel a little safe now, that they informed us at least we know about it now, we know what to suspect if there is something suspicious and we are not just out there in the dark," said Brawley.
Sheriff Crites believes the light that is used in the suspect's car is a simple flashing light that anyone can buy. He says most law enforcement vehicles will have several sets of flashing lights on top of the car inside the car and in some cases in the grill of the car.
Crites also says most law enforcement vehicles will be fully marked or have some marking indicating who they are with. In addition, all officers should have a form of identification showing what agency they work for.