Commonwealth Journal

June 10, 2013

Accused ‘groper’ pleads not guilty in district court

Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

A man who police say inappropriately touched no fewer than six different victims in local retail stores has pleaded not guilty to related charges. 
Robert Aaron Hammonds, 38, of Somerset, was arrested late Saturday night, putting to end a search that lasted several days after police asked for the public’s help in identifying the suspect in surveillance video. 
The case began on May 30 when two women initially reported that a man had inappropriately touched them in separate incidents while they were shopping at the TJ Maxx clothing store, located in the Grand Central shopping center. 
The two females reported that they’d been touched by a man in the store. 
Both times, the suspect made it appear accidental or unintentional.
But the man’s intent behind the alleged incidents can be seen through store surveillance video, according to SPD Lt. Shannon Smith.
“He made it appear that (the contact was unintentional), although it’s clear from the video it was not,” said Smith on Wednesday, June 5. “He clearly intended to do it.”
Smith said the man allegedly touched both victims in the buttocks area in an action that appeared he was “passing by.”
The two women were described by police as being in their late 20s or early 30s. 
The Somerset Police Department on Wednesday released surveillance footage from T.J. Maxx that showed the then-unidentified suspect. 
Police asked for help identifying him. Within hours, more than 3,000 people had seen the SPD post on Facebook. Smith said tips soon started pouring in. 
“Since the media attention last night and today, we received numerous tips,” said Smith on Thursday. “A majority of which identified the right person.”
The case took a new turn on Thursday when three more victims came forward. Smith said two of those victims are young girls under 12 years old, and the third is an adult woman. 
One alleged incident occurred at the Family Dollar on East Mt. Vernon Street, and the other two allegedly occurred at Hobby Lobby, located in Grand Central Place shopping center — the same center T.J. Maxx is located in. 
And on Friday, a sixth victim — who Smith described as an adult woman — reported she’d been touched by the suspect at K-Mart last week. 
Hammonds was identified relatively quickly, thanks to the flood of tips that came in from the public. 
“We released the surveillance video hoping the public could help us in this investigation and they gave us over a dozen tips that identified the man as (Hammonds),” said Smith. “The public helped solve this case.”
The new cases delayed Hammonds’ arrest for a few days while investigators worked to investigate the new victims’ claims. 
Hammonds was arrested by SPD Officer Randall Smith at a residence on North Ky. 1247 Saturday. 
Hammonds was lodged in the Pulaski County Detention Center shortly after 12 a.m. Sunday and charged on a Pulaski District Court warrant on two counts of first-degree sexual abuse and three counts of third-degree sexual abuse.
First-degree sexual abuse is a felony and third-degree sexual abuse is a misdemeanor. 
Hammonds is being held on a $7,500 bond, according to online detention center records. He is slated to appear in court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing. 
The case remains under investigation by SPD Detective Larry Patterson.