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Fayetteville officials to discuss police handling of rape cases

Several women in the Fayetteville area have been sexually assaulted in their homes since late June, but police didn't publicly connect the cases until Monday.

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The Fayetteville City Council has scheduled a meeting for next week to review how the Fayetteville Police Department handled its investigation into a series of burglaries and sexual assaults in recent months.

Six women in Fayetteville and a seventh in Hope Mills have been sexually assaulted since late June by a man who broke into their homes – usually apartments – late at night while they were home alone, according to police reports. In an eighth case, a burglar tried to sexually assault a Fayetteville woman before fleeing.

Police said they notified neighbors after each attack, but they didn't publicly connect the cases until Monday, when they announced the formation of a task force to investigate the crimes and urged women to be vigilant.

"The primary role of government is the protection of its citizens," Mayor Tony Chavonne said in a statement Wednesday. "The City Council shares in the concerns of our citizens with the lack of information regarding the recent assaults in our community."

Two women who live on Glenwick Drive, where the first two attacks occurred in June, said police never told them about the rapes. Officers conducted a community meeting about a month after the assaults only to warn of recent crimes, the women said.

"They were still not forthcoming about the rapes," one woman said angrily. "(They said) that there was an assault and break-in (and) 'You've got to be careful.' They didn't even tell us that the girl had gotten raped."

"I think we should have known as soon as it happened,” her neighbor said.

Police Chief Tom Bergamine on Tuesday defended his department's delay in notifying the public about the attacks, saying investigators needed time to connect the dots to determine if the cases were related. He and other police officials said they also wanted to protect the victims' privacy and avoid unduly alarming the public.

"We need to verify (information), and we need to collaborate and meet with our victims," Sgt. Pam Brewington said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

Chavonne said City Manager Dale Iman would cut short a training session by the University of North Carolina's School of Government that he was attending in Wilmington to review the situation and prepare a report for the City Council.

The report will outline "who knew what information, when they knew it and why the information was not released to the City Council or our local citizens in order that there are not further communication breakdowns," Chavonne said.

The City Council will meet at 5 p.m. Jan. 19 to receive the report.

Police declined to comment Wednesday. They have said it's too early to say whether a serial rapist is preying on Fayetteville women, noting they have only a vague description of an assailant.

Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin said Tuesday that he recently learned that DNA evidence from an Aug. 10 sexual assault in the Lindsey Road area east of Raeford matches evidence from an unsolved sexual assault in Fayetteville. Other aspects of the Hoke County case also match details of the Fayetteville attacks, he said.

Meanwhile, Army investigators said Tuesday that they have no evidence that a case on Fort Bragg with similar circumstances is linked to the Fayetteville cases.

Anyone with information about the assaults is asked to call Detective J. Rodriguez of the Fayetteville Police Department at 910-433-1856.