A Bellingham man shook his head in court Friday as a prosecutor read felony charges that, for the past few months, he has sexually harassed young women as they shopped at big box stores.
Police took a series of reports starting in September of a man following young women and girls around in three stores, Walmart, Target and Kmart, where he made aggressive unwanted advances.
A woman in her 20s told police on Sept. 14 that a man followed her to the children’s section of Walmart and stuck a cellphone between her legs to take a picture.
Over the months that followed, more women told police that a stranger came up to them while they were shopping, and asked “eyebrow-raising” questions, said Sgt. Claudia Murphy. Some women said the man asked to see intimate parts.
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Those cases remain under investigation, and while it’s clear the man’s words and actions were inappropriate, Murphy said, it’s unclear if he crossed the line to the point of committing a crime.
On Nov. 28, a preteen girl and her mother reported a man followed them in the toy section of Kmart, walking back and forth behind them as he held a cellphone.
Once the girl left the aisle to use the restroom, the man followed her inside and took photos of her by reaching under the stall, according to a statement read in court by Deputy Prosecutor Erik Sigmar. The girl told police she recognized the man’s shoes.
Security footage showed the girl running out of the bathroom, and the man walking out right behind her, Sigmar said. Police published photos of the suspect on social media.
A tip from the public led detectives to Ramieq Naquan Kalungie Howard, 22, who matched the suspect description. Howard lives with his girlfriend north of downtown Bellingham, police said, and after one woman’s report, a car registered to Howard was seen leaving the Walmart parking lot.
Police arrested him Thursday, carried out a search warrant at his home, and interviewed him at length. He told police he took the photos on the phone app Snapchat.
At Howard’s first appearance in court Friday, a deputy public defender, Lydia Koroma, argued that Howard had been identified only by the color of his shoes.
“So I don’t see that there was positive identification, that he was the one taking these pictures in that restroom,” Koroma said.
“Well, the defendant admitted to being in the bathroom with the alleged child victim at Kmart, and corroborated her and the mother’s story,” Sigmar said.
Superior Court Commissioner Alfred Heydrich found probable cause Friday to hold Howard in jail as he awaits formal written charges. He is accused of two counts of voyeurism, a class C felony. Sigmar noted those charges “may be the tip of the iceberg.”
Heydrich set bail at $25,000.
About two years ago Howard moved from North Carolina to Washington. Other than a speeding ticket Howard has no criminal record, Koroma said.