In a rare display of vigilantism, about 30 people taunted, attacked and detained a man on Sunday who they suspected of committing recent sex crimes in Pueblo, Colo., according to city police. The man was later released by police, who cited a lack of evidence for charges.
Pueblo Police Department Captain Kenny Rider told U.S. News the crowd was angered by three cases: a sexual assault, an attempted kidnapping and a case of indecent exposure. Several members of the community have assumed a connection between the cases, but police have not.
The indecent exposure incident happened in a Pueblo alleyway, where the Sunday pursuit also began. The suspect covered his face with a bandana, and the only evidence was footprints left by his shoes.
But on Sunday the victim's mother asked her daughter if a man walking down the alleyway was the culprit, and she said he was, prompting a male family member to ask the man to wait for police. He agreed.
Soon a crowd assembled around the man, threatening him, Rider said. One of the men brought a pit bull on a chain.
"He was scared and took off running," Rider said. "They gave chase, and eventually caught up with him."
By the time police arrived between 25 and 30 people were surrounding the man, who had been pelted by rocks and punched in the face.
One of the men who gave chase, Alex Pacheco, told The Pueblo Chieftain: "We can't wait around any longer without doing something. These are children that this man is after, and we can't let any more children get hurt by him."
"This man is totally cooperative," countered Rider. Police released him after he volunteered his DNA and had his shoes photographed. There was DNA collected after the unsolved sexual assault, Rider said.
In addition to attacking the man, the assailants also allegedly interfered with the police investigation into the unsolved crimes.
"When the group caught this gentleman... one of the people in this group said they were going to get the little girl to identify him. The police said no, but they brought the child anyway," Rider said.
When police went to interview the mother and the young girl, Rider said, the mob "started causing a big commotion in the street," forcing the interview to be relocated to the police station.
The man who was attacked did not wish to be publicly identified or to pursue criminal charges against his attackers, and none of the men currently face charges. The Pueblo Police Department referred the case to the local district attorney's office for review.
Rider said some of the assailants are associated with the American Indian Movement, an activist group founded in the 1960s. He doesn't believe the girl is an American Indian.
"The AIM members are going around trying to solve this on their own," Rider said. "They didn't have enough to arrest this man, certainly."