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Voyeurism and lewd conduct cases continue near WWU and the suspect remains at large

Sgt. Claudia Murphy offers advice on what to do if you see a peeper or flasher

Sgt. Claudia Murphy, who supervises the Bellingham Police Department’s Family Crimes Unit, offers advice on what to do if you see a peeper or flasher. She advises residents to call 911 right away and to get a good description of the suspect.
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Sgt. Claudia Murphy, who supervises the Bellingham Police Department’s Family Crimes Unit, offers advice on what to do if you see a peeper or flasher. She advises residents to call 911 right away and to get a good description of the suspect.

Police are considering whether an indecent exposure Friday morning is the person linked to two dozen or more similar incidents in Bellingham this year.

It’s the second such instance of indecent exposure this week near Western Washington University – police arrested a Ferndale man in connection with Tuesday’s crime but detectives on Friday said he wasn’t linked to any of the previous incidents.

Friday’s incident was reported at 5:10 a.m. near the corner of Gladstone and Iron streets, in the York neighborhood north of the WWU campus, said Bellingham Police Lt. Don Almer.

“A female resident observed an unknown male standing with his hands down his pants and it appeared to the citizen that the male could be masturbating,” Almer said. “The male walked away westbound on Gladstone Street.”

Officers were unable to find the suspect and detectives are investigating the incident further, Almer said.

Almer said the suspect was described as a white man with brown hair, 20-30 years old, and average height and weight. He was wearing baggy black pants and a black hoodie with blue printing on the front. An empty shopping cart was with him.

He said other information related to the case was being withheld while detectives investigate.

A rash of voyeurism and lewd conduct incidents have plagued the neighborhoods surrounding campus since late summer and police have said many of the crimes are linked to the same man. Until this week, nearly a month had gone by without an incident that matched the voyeurism suspect’s description.

In all cases, the suspect was a white man in his 20s. Sometimes he’s seen looking into the window of a house and masturbating. Other times, he’s stepped from behind a tree and flashed his genitals. Once, a suspect called out to a woman as he masturbated in a parked car. Another time, a suspect grabbed a woman’s breasts from behind and fled when she elbowed him.

Tuesday’s arrest

In this instance earlier this week, Daryl James Coates, 38, of Ferndale, was arrested in connection with an indecent exposure about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday in the 900 block of North Forest Street. According to Whatcom County Superior Court records, Coates has been charged with several counts of indecent exposure in two other cases this year.

Except for his age, he resembled the voyeurism suspect’s description.

But detectives on Friday ruled him out as the prolific WWU voyeur.

“Daryl Coates (the recent arrest for indecent exposure) has been ruled out as a suspect in the WWU voyeurism incidents,” Almer said Friday afternoon. “Detectives are still actively working any leads that they have concerning the WWU voyeurism incidents.”

Western safety

As the incidents continue and a suspect has not been arrested, Western Washington University officials are urging students and staff to remain vigilant and take other safety measures.

green coats
Western Washington University sophomore Sean Highley works as a "Green Coat" safety escort. Rhys Logan/Western Washington University Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

More people on campus are using the “Green Coats” public safety assistants, officials said. In addition, Western Police have taken a closer look at security measures campus-wide.

Green Coats are paid student employees, and both men and women serve.

The service is available to anyone on campus by calling University Police at 360-650-3555.

Anyone who has information can call Western Washington University Police at 3911 or 911, anonymously at 360-650-7233.

Tips can also be sent to Bellingham Police Detective Sue Howell at 360-778-8682, anonymously at 360-778-8611, or online at cob.org/tips.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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