Police say they’ve confronted man following women in Belmont Heights, but he’s not under arrest

In November, police went to the home of a driver suspected of following several different women around the Belmont Heights neighborhood.

He was calm when he told them: “As far as I know, driving around the beach isn’t illegal,” according to a police official.

That’s the problem Long Beach police are facing as they try to figure out what to do about the man who’s drawn a flurry of complaints and police reports from women in the neighborhood, Long Beach Police Commander Patrick O’Dowd said to a group of residents Wednesday night.

The reports called into police and posted on social media are all similar, he said: a Hispanic man in his 30s or 40s follows women who are sometimes walking with their dogs or their children. He’s driving a grey older Toyota Corolla with a burgundy passenger side door. The license plate on the car is 5MHS956. Oftentimes the man will say “creepy” things and comment on the women’s appearance. Once he’s noticed or confronted, he often speeds down an alley.

“I’m very frustrated,” O’Dowd said. “I have a team of guys working on this person.”

O’Dowd spoke at the Belmont Heights Community Association meeting to give residents an update on the the situation.

Right before the meeting, a man had even reported seeing the suspect just a few blocks away from the church where residents were meeting.

“He’s terrorizing the neighborhood,” one frustrated man said.

O’Dowd said they’ve identified the suspect; they even know his criminal record. According to the commander, he’s been arrested and charged in the past with sexual battery and indecent exposure, but he was allowed to plead no contest or guilty to a lesser charge, simple battery, and he was put on probation, which he recently completed. He is not on any sex-offender registry, meaning he can be around schools, according to O’Dowd.

“So we know what this guy is about,” O’Dowd said. “So that’s why it’s frustrating for me and my team because I don’t intend to wait around until this person does something. But then again, it’s very hard to prevent someone from committing a crime, even though you know they’re very likely to.”

Police say they’re building a case to charge him with stalking, but to do that, they need victims to keep coming forward and filing reports. O’Dowd reiterated that calling 911 to tell operators what happened does not create a police report. Victims need to stick around to file one with an officer, he said.

He even acknowledged that some officers might try to avoid taking a report and instead say they’ll look around for the suspect. In those cases, victims should insist officers take a report and ask for a supervisor if that doesn’t work, O’Dowd said.

One woman spoke up and said she had been followed by the same man before and didn’t report it because she didn’t know it was a wider problem. Victims who haven’t filed a report yet are encouraged to do so, the commander said.

In addition to stalking, it’s possible the suspect could be arrested on suspicion of indecent exposure after at least one woman alleged he masturbated in front of her this summer. Despite the woman contacting police about it, O’Dowd said the department cannot locate the police report and is working to find it.

“I have some supervisors looking into that right now, so I apologize for that. That’s on us; that’s not acceptable,” O’Dowd said. “When you call and tell a cop that ‘Hey, this guy is doing this in his car,’ and we say ‘OK, we’ll drive around and look for him,’ without taking a report to document it, that’s not acceptable.”

One woman previously told the Post that she filed a police report with an officer in November after learning that her call to police about the man masturbating in his car did not generate a report.

Some residents are more fearful than others. One attendee at the meeting, Eric, said his girlfriend has been followed by the man twice for four to five blocks at a time. Eric declined to give his last name but said he’s worried the suspect is zeroing in on specific women.

“It’s frustrating because I’ve seen him twice now,” he said.

In addition to the grey Toyota Corolla, the suspect has been seen in a black Nissan SUV, residents said.

For now, O’Dowd said a team of officers are on the case, keeping a watchful eye on him.

“I wholeheartedly believe this guy is going to do something illegal,” O’Dowd said.

Residents should be alert while out walking and call 911 if they see the suspect. O’Dowd said his team is working with the communications center to ensure calls matching that description are not pushed down in priority. He also encouraged residents to continue posting the incidents on social media to warn their neighbors.

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Valerie Osier is the Social Media & Newsletter Manager for the Long Beach Post. She started at the Post in 2018 as a breaking news reporter. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from the Cal State Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband and two cats.