By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - A former California police officer was arrested on Thursday and booked on suspicion of 22 felonies related to the rape and sexual battery of five women while on duty and in uniform, the prosecutor handling the case said.
Noah Winchester, 31, was taken into custody Thursday morning near his home in the Central Valley city of Stockton, on an arrest warrant that included charges of rape, kidnapping and sexual battery, all under color of authority, said Stephen Wagstaffe, District Attorney for San Mateo County near San Francisco, where some of the alleged assaults took place.
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"In this time when police officers across America are being questioned, to have something like this occur truly tarnishes the good men and women who are police officers," Wagstaffe said in an interview.
Winchester preyed on women who were poor and down on their luck, including one who was homeless, spying them on the street and insisting that they come with him, Wagstaffe said.
"I could arrest you," he told one woman, according to Wagstaffe.
The women were of different races and ages, but the similarity is that they had all fallen on tough times, the prosecutor said. They were not prostitutes.
Winchester committed his alleged crimes as an officer in two cities. In Sacramento, where he worked for the Los Rios Community College District, and in San Mateo, where he worked for the city police department, Wagstaffe said.
The San Mateo Police Department said in a news release that Winchester joined the city as a police officer in early 2015. In October, he was accused of sexual assault and put on leave, before resigning in February of this year.
"We were first made aware of criminal allegations regarding the conduct of Winchester, at that time a San Mateo Police Officer, on the morning of October 20, 2015," the news release said, adding that the department had cooperated in the investigation and was "horrified" at the arrest.
"These allegations, if proven true, are a disgrace and wholly disavowed by this department and this city," the release said.
The incidents in Sacramento occurred in 2013, the release said.
Winchester will make his first court appearance on July 25, Wagstaffe said. He is being held in San Joaquin County Jail on $3.1 million bail, the prosecutor said.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Bill Rigby)