Trail safe despite attack, say police and park officials

Daylight assault on woman 'an anomaly,' police chief says

Posted 8/3/18

Littleton's Mary Carter Greenway is a safe place to be despite a shocking daylight attack that led to the capture of a man suspected of several sexual assaults, Littleton police and South Suburban …

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Trail safe despite attack, say police and park officials

Daylight assault on woman 'an anomaly,' police chief says

Posted

Littleton's Mary Carter Greenway is a safe place to be despite a shocking daylight attack that led to the capture of a man suspected of several sexual assaults, Littleton police and South Suburban Parks and Recreation said.

“We just don't see that many crimes on that path,” said Littleton Police Chief Doug Stephens. “There's not much criminal activity, and it's certainly not increasing. This crime was a horrible anomaly.”

Vanessa Ursini, 29, was walking her dog along the trail that follows the South Platte River through Littleton on July 25 when a man threw a rope around her neck and dragged her into the woods near Reynolds Landing, an area north of West Mineral Avenue near Breckenridge Brewery, according to an arrest affidavit. The suspect, Johnny DeWayne Harris, 48, is accused of sexually assaulting Ursini and tying her up. Ursini was able to escape, and a passerby apprehended and held Harris until police arrived.

Harris faces seven felony counts in the attack, including kidnapping, assault and sexual assault. Harris also faces numerous charges in a pair of attacks in Denver in March, police say. Harris previously served prison time for sexually assaulting a teenager in Texas. Harris' next scheduled court hearing is on Aug. 13 on the Denver charges.

Ursini's account of the attack, posted to social media the next day, has gone viral, with more than 200,000 shares as of Aug. 3. Her story has made headlines around the world. A GoFundMe page on her behalf has raised nearly $40,000. Ursini declined an interview through a publicist handling her media inquiries.

Ursini “did everything right” leading up to the attack, Stephens said. “She was aware of her surroundings. She had her big dog with her. She was walking in broad daylight on a heavily populated trail through a major metro area. It just didn't matter to this person — they were a predator, and they were going to do this regardless. This could've happened to anyone.”

Stephens said no officers are currently assigned to patrol the path on a regular basis, though officers have the option to do so when they're not responding to other calls.

“We're just too short-staffed to have somebody out there all the time,” Stephens said. “What I envision when we're more fully staffed is to have officers on bikes and our ATV more regularly.”

Stephens said officers will sometimes drive police cruisers down the trail.

Primarily, Stephens said, observation on the trail is up to citizens and South Suburban Parks and Recreation District rangers.

South Suburban has five rangers who patrol outdoor areas across the entire district from Sheridan to Lone Tree, said Andrew Jennings, South Suburban parks and open space director. He said two seasonal bike rangers patrol the Platte trail in the summer.

The rangers don't have arrest powers, Jennings said, and their training says not to pursue crime suspects.

“More than anything, they're there to provide information to the public,” Jennings said. “We try to leave enforcement up to the police.”

Jennings said the rangers have not reported increased criminal activity in the area.

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