A young man free on probation for armed robbery was arrested yesterday and charged in a series of sexual attacks against women and girls who were accosted after getting off public buses in East Baltimore.
Rodney Johnson, 19, surrendered about 8 a.m. at his mother's rowhouse in the 1600 block of Ashland Ave.
After several hours of interviews with detectives - during which he reportedly denied involvement - police said they charged him with rape and five counts of sexual assault and sodomy.
He was convicted as an adult in 1997, when he was 16, of holding up three people at gunpoint in an East Baltimore supermarket parking lot. He spent less than six months in jail and is on probation until 2002.
Police said the arrest should relieve workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital and several nearby schools, where sketches were posted of the attacker and officials had warned students, patrons and employees to walk in groups and take extra precautions.
"They can relax a little bit," said Detective Donald O. Catterton, one of two lead investigators in the case.
Johnson was ordered held without bail by a District Court commissioner and has a hearing scheduled for Monday. His mother, Alice Lyons, 40, said she told her son to surrender after police kicked in her front door about 6 a.m. yesterday, but he was not there.
Two hours later, Lyons called police and told them Johnson was waiting for them on her front steps. "He said, 'It's OK, Ma. I know I'm not a rapist,'" Lyons said. Johnson has four siblings.
Police said they are confident in their investigation. Department spokeswoman Ragina C. Averella said two of the five victims identified Johnson from a photographic lineup. The remaining three are to be interviewed this weekend, police said.
The attacks against five girls and young women began early last month and all occurred in daylight near the 1500 block of Orleans St., near the Hopkins complex and a group of schools, including Dunbar Middle and High School.
The latest occurred Monday morning; a woman told police she was put in a choke hold from behind after she got off a bus on East Monument Street. She said she was forced to a secluded spot behind Dunbar Middle School and sexually assaulted.
She broke away and screamed, and Hopkins security guards chased a man for several blocks before he escaped. At least one woman was raped, police said, and another was threatened with a knife.
In other cases, police said, the attacker implied he was armed.
A 15-member police task force was set up to investigate the attacks, which spanned five weeks. Authorities made a public plea for help and distributed fliers throughout neighborhoods near the attacks.
Catterton said one of hundreds of anonymous tips led to yesterday's arrest.
"The information brought three or four other little tips together," he said.
Police said they searched Johnson's mother's house on Ashland Avenue, as well as other locations where the man stayed. Authorities said they recovered a mountain bike similar to one described by several victims in a house belonging to Johnson's girlfriend, who police said is not implicated in the incidents. They have not recovered a weapon.
An interview with Lyons and a review of court records show that Johnson has a criminal past that includes selling marijuana and cocaine while as young as 13, as well as other run-ins with the law.
"He has a record for drugs and robbery, but rape? No," she said.
In court files of his armed robbery case, psychiatrists concluded that Johnson would have to be institutionalized and treated for psychiatric problems to become productive.
Johnson told court officials in the robbery case that he sold drugs after dropping out of the ninth grade at Lombard Middle School, but that he felt bad about his crimes and "was tired of going to jail."
"He is streetwise," Drs. Fernando Perez and Anne Hanson concluded in one evaluation, which led the youth to face armed robbery charges as an adult and is contained in the public court file. "He plans to find a job in the future and organize his life."
The psychiatrists, who are employed by the Circuit Court, said Johnson hung around men in their early 20s, all of whom had criminal records.
At 16, he was charged in the armed robbery. Police reports indicate he was one of three youths who on March 18, 1997, robbed three people at gunpoint outside the Stop, Shop & Save in the 900 block of N. Caroline St.
He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, with all but five months and 28 days suspended, and placed on five years' probation.
"He said he did all the things that kids do, like burning papers, breaking windows or beating up other kids," according to the evaluation in his court file.
Lyons said she will try to hire a lawyer for her son this weekend. She said he was framed by police in the armed robbery case because he wore clothes similar to those of the gunman. And, she said: "I don't believe my son can rape anybody."