SAN MATEO (CBS SF) — A former San Mateo police officer pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 22 felonies for five alleged sexual assaults while on duty in 2013 and 2015, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.
Noah Winchester, 31, could face a maximum sentence of life in prison if found guilty of all 22 counts. He appeared in court Tuesday afternoon with his attorney, Michael Rains, who has represented numerous police officers accused of wrongdoing.
Winchester is scheduled to return to court on Monday for a motion to reduce his bail, currently at $3.1 million. He remains in custody, Wagstaffe said.
The charges against Winchester filed last month include kidnapping with intent to commit rape, rape, sexual penetration and oral copulation under color of authority, battery, criminal threats, and forcible sex offenses.
Winchester is accused of assaulting two victims, including a 17-year-old girl, in the Sacramento area in 2013 while he was an officer with the Los Rios Community College Police Department and three women last year in San Mateo County while he was a San Mateo police officer.
He quit the Los Rios department early in 2015 after more than five years to join the San Mateo department, but questions about his conduct in San Mateo arose when a distressed woman was found in Burlingame at about 5:15 a.m. on Oct. 20.
The woman told police that she had been assaulted. Burlingame police referred the case to San Mateo, where Winchester was swiftly placed on leave and the district attorney’s office was called in to investigate.
But suspicions about Winchester had already been raised in 2013 while he was still with the Los Rios department. A woman reported an assault in 2013 to Sacramento police, who referred the case to the Los Rios Community College District, Wagstaffe said.
Los Rios district spokesman Mitchel Benson said in a statement last month, after criminal charges were already filed, that the college was launching its own investigation. He declined to say when the district knew about the 2013 report by Sacramento police or why it was only launching an investigation in July, months after the allegations against Winchester had already become public.
News that Winchester was being investigated for sexual assaults emerged in May, after the San Mateo County investigation had been continuing quietly for months. Winchester resigned his position in February, but it wasn’t until July that the details of the alleged assaults were revealed.
Investigators learned of two previous assaults in San Mateo County — on Sept. 22 and Sept. 15 — and two in the Sacramento area on Aug. 30, 2013, and July 2, 2013.
In four cases, Winchester is alleged to have raped the women under threat of arresting or incarcerating them. In others, he is accused of sexual battery while the victims are restrained. In one case, he entered the woman’s home and raped her there, according to court documents.
Rains is a criminal defense attorney known for representing police accused of misconduct, including former Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle who was found guilty of killing Oscar Grant in 2009.
Rains also represented Barry Bonds in the BALCO case.
He says that Winchester’s family is “in turmoil” since his arrest. Winchester, 31, was arrested outside the home he shares with his wife and two children in Stockton after he was put on indefinite leave by the San Mateo Police Department in October on suspicions he raped a woman at Coyote Point.
Winchester’s young son, 13, was in the car at the time of the arrest, Rains said.
The suspect was about to take his son to a sports practice when police stopped him with guns drawn, Rains said. “It’s a tough time for his family. His young son was horrified,” Rains said of the arrest.
Winchester, since being put on leave, had mostly cared for his children while his wife worked to support the family, Rains said. Rains is not sure, however, whether he or his firm will continue to represent the former cop with three alleged victims in San Mateo and two others from 2013 from the Sacramento area.
Winchester’s defense may be paid for by a statewide union fund for police officers, Rains said.
Winchester was an officer with the Los Rios Community College District before being hired by the SMPD early last year.
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