Slow to arrest? Sexual predator arrested 19 days after first victim turns to police
(KUTV) -- It is hard for John to talk about the day in 2016 when his daughter went to the Newgate Mall in Ogden to get a massage. Her goal was to relieve stress. She never imagined that she was about to endure a stress that would hurt her for, probably, the rest of her life.
“My daughter was the victim of a serial sexual assault crime spree,” John said, strong emotion in his voice.
Hongwei Yang, 47, was arrested, convicted and sentenced to up-to-5 years in jail. The case was built on the statements of five victims who came forward during the investigation.
John is speaking out now because he is angry, not just at the man who assaulted his daughter and so many other women, but at the Ogden Police Department. He says they botched the investigation, in doing so, allowing his daughter and several other women to be victims when they did not need to be.
Police records show Yang wasn't arrested until 19 days after the police were made aware of the crime.
The first victim approached Ogden police on July 19, 2016. According to the incident report, the victim was "willing to assist in the investigation and in the prosecution." The victim "was asked to fill out an (sic) statement form and bring it back to the station at a later date." No arrest was made and the report offers no indication that the suspect was even questioned.
Six days later, another victim turned to police - that one was John's daughter. According to police records, she was also instructed to “complete a written statement" and her statement was “given to records.” The reports concludes, "I took no further action at this time." Again, no arrest.
Three days later, two more victims came forward. Again, police took "a written statement" from each, but no indication the suspect was questioned and no arrest was made.
Ten days later, a fifth victim turned to police. This time, there was action. Police responded to the mall and the victim was asked to "positively identify the suspect." Records show police then "spoke to Hongwei" Yang, and he was "taken into custody."
Nineteen days was too long, John says. After news reports of Yang's arrest, police say they got an additional 23 tips from people claiming they, too, were victims.
“[The Ogden Police Department] failed her and all of these other women terribly," he said. "It was not handled properly."
For John, justice has not been served. He's on a mission to encourage all police agencies to review their responses to sexual assault crimes and to change Utah law and make it easier for victims of crime to sue police departments for failing to act.
"There were victims who were unnecessarily emotionally scarred for life," he said.
Captain Danielle Croyle with the Ogden City Police Department defends the work of her department.
"It was not a botched investigation," she said. "This case was adjudicated. He was convicted of these cases. It's not like he wasn't held accountable for his actions. We do take these cases very seriously and we make sure that they're done properly."
Croyle says an issue police face when dealing with sexual assaults is what a victim wants to see happen. "Do they want to pursue criminal charges?" she asked rhetorically.
That may be, but it wasn't an issue in this case. According to police reports, each of the five victims who came forward before Yang was arrested specifically told police that they would support prosecution.
When asked if an arrest had been made after the first complaint, Ogden PD feels there would be fewer victims today, Cptn. Croyle answered, “We have to make sure that we have probable cause for an arrest and during that first, there wasn't enough to hit that tipping-of-the-scale to make sure that we could have a prosecutable case and that we had enough for an arrest."
Cptn. Croyle claims her department has done an internal investigation of this particular case and says there is no indication of "dereliction of duty" by any of the officers. Get Gephardt asked to see that review but Ogden denied our public records request.
In the time since the case, Ogden has changed the way it investigates reports of sexual assault. The alleged crimes are now handled by the special victim’s unit, which is trained to deal with, what Cptn. Croyle calls, "sensitive matters."