Police: Workers responded to assault at airport

AP News
Posted: Apr 14, 2011 8:33 PM
Police: Workers responded to assault at airport

Denver police said Thursday they believe employees who witnessed an alleged sexual assault at the airport responded appropriately by calling for help, countering earlier statements by the woman's family that some people may have walked by without helping.

Police spokesman Sonny Jackson said Denver International Airport employees called security to report Tuesday's incident in a near-empty concourse. Airport security then contacted police, who with airport officers were at the scene within three minutes, Jackson said. He would not say how many workers responded and declined to release additional details, saying the case was under investigation.

Jenny Schiavone, a DIA spokeswoman, said an initial airport review found that employees followed proper procedure in responding to the incident. She did not release details of that review and said an informal review of whether all procedures were followed is under way.

The family of the woman has raised questions about whether some employees witnessed the 12:30 a.m. attack in Concourse A without intervening. They said she told them that three people, whom she believed to be airport employees, appeared to walk by without helping.

"We believe that the passers-by that she saw notified authorities,"' Jackson said.

Noel Alexander Bertrand, 26, was being held Thursday in lieu of $50,000 bond after his arrest on suspicion of sexual assault. The district attorney's office said charges could be filed as early as Friday. Authorities said Bertrand didn't yet have an attorney.

Police allege that Bertrand met the woman at an airport restaurant and later knocked her the floor in the nearly empty terminal. They say Bertrand hit her in the left eye and choked her by her shirt collar, according a court document.

Two airport workers intervened and held Bertrand until police arrived, according to Jackson.

"This is so highly unusual," said Jackson. "I mean 146,000 people go through DIA a day ... and you don't have incidences like this happen."

Family said the woman was at the airport after missing a connecting flight Monday evening.

The woman spoke to KMGH-TV after agreeing to be interviewed. She said that the attack "could have happened to anyone."

"I couldn't reach anywhere. I couldn't touch anything. I couldn't breathe," she said.

A family member said that said the victim was in tears Thursday morning, two days after the attack.

The Associated Press does not use the names of people who report being sexually assaulted unless they agree to be identified. The AP also isn't identifying family members to protect the woman's identity.

Two Frontier Airlines mechanics told KMGH-TV they were working outside, on the tarmac, early Tuesday when they saw something happening through a concourse window and realized someone was being hurt.

"I saw the hair waving and that is when I yelled at Mark and said, `We got to go,'" said Kris Musil.

"The first thing I saw as I went through the door and was going after him was he reared back and smacked the girl pretty hard," said fellow mechanic Mark Adams. "Then (he) finally stopped when I yelled at him."

"At one time the man said, `I am going to go now,' and I told him he wasn't going anywhere," said Musil.

"I wish we could have got there a lot sooner," Adams added.

Schiavone defended the security system at Denver International, one of the nation's busiest airports. She declined to provide details for security reasons.

"It sounds like they helped the situation," Schiavone said of the mechanics' response. "I don't think our policy says that you can only call somebody."

Jackson said that he knows of one other alleged sexual assault at DIA, a case involving an airport worker attacking another employee in an area not accessible to the public.

Family members said the woman was flying from her home in Oregon to Peoria, Ill., when she was attacked. They say since the alleged assault she's coped with a concussion and had severe head pains.

No one returned telephone messages left at what was believed to be Bertrand's home in Portland, Ore., or his family's home in Vancouver, Washington.

KMGH-TV reported that a woman who identified herself as Bertrand's grandmother said Bertrand is a former Marine. One of his previous addresses in public records was a U.S. Marine facility in Japan.