BY PAULA MINAERT — Here’s the good news: A man is in custody as a suspect in at least two of the six assaults and rapes that took place on and near the Northwest Branch Hiker-Biker Trail earlier this year. Arrested last month, Edwin Rivas, 24, was ordered held without bail for the January 28 and February 23 attacks.
Here’s more good news: Our own Hyattsville Police Department was instrumental in identifying Rivas.
Hyattsville Chief of Police Douglas Holland said, “I am proud of our officers for their dogged, good old-fashioned police work that led to the arrest of the suspect. This was definitely the result of teamwork between our patrol officers and investigators, and our continuous communications and partnerships with our surrounding police agencies.”
Sgt. Chris Purvis, police department spokesperson, said it all began when a city officer went out on a call that had nothing to do with the attacks.
“It was a roommate dispute. And when Officer Kirk Pile went out on it, something stuck out about one of the roommates. He saw the [composite sketches] in his mind and something clicked.”
The department had passed out sketches of three suspects to all its officers, so the case was in everyone’s mind, Purvis said. Pile took a photograph of the man and gave it to the city’s investigative section.
The Hyattsville police, in whose jurisdiction the February assault happened, had been working together with the other forces investigating the attacks: the Park Police, Mount Rainier Police and Prince George’s County Police.
Purvis said, “We spent a lot of time on the trails, in both visible and non-visible roles. We looked at people and talked to people. All the police forces did; it was a stepped-up effort on everyone’s part.”
The next part of the saga also happened in Hyattsville. A victim in one of the attacks saw her assailant on Hamilton Street and notified police.
“City police went down and recovered video footage from a store where the victim had been,” said Purvis. The man was gone by then.
Hyattsville Detectives Scott Ratty and Zach Nemser looked at the footage, checked it against the photo taken by Pile and decided it was the same person. So, because of Officer Pile’s making a connection with one of the men he encountered on that unrelated call, they now had a name.
“We had a lead. The case was building now,” said Purvis. The department put out a warrant for Rivas’s arrest.
The detectives put together a series of photographs of possible suspects that included Rivas. When they showed the photos to the woman who had called police, she identified Rivas as her attacker.
“Then the woman saw him a second time,” said Purvis. “She called county police because it was a county case. Our guys overheard the call on the scanner and knew we had a warrant out for him. We bolted down there and grabbed him.”
“A lot of time and effort went into this,” said Purvis. “Everyone wanted this case closed.”
The case isn’t completely closed, though. Captain Stanley Johnson of the Park Police said they are still working the case for the other assaults that happened on the trail. Based on the composites, he said, they think they’re looking for two more people.
“We’ve continued contact with the victims and looked at potential suspects but no one’s been charged. There is nothing to indicate that Rivas was involved in the cases we’re investigating.”