Crime

Co-owner of Bellingham restaurant jailed on rape charges

Jamison Rogayan has been forced out of his role at Cosmos Bistro in Bellingham after allegations that he had raped women began surfacing on social media. Rogayan was arrested Friday, Sept. 25, on suspicion of second-degree rape and related assault charges.
Jamison Rogayan has been forced out of his role at Cosmos Bistro in Bellingham after allegations that he had raped women began surfacing on social media. Rogayan was arrested Friday, Sept. 25, on suspicion of second-degree rape and related assault charges. The Bellingham Herald

A co-owner of a downtown Bellingham restaurant was booked into jail Friday afternoon, Sept. 25, after six women accused him of sex crimes dating from 2006 to 2014.

Until last week, Jamison Scott Rogayan was the outgoing, upbeat face of Cosmos Bistro, a five-month-old sit-down restaurant at 1151 N. State St., on the bottom floor of the Herald Building.

He ran the front of house, waiting tables, serving comfort food: burgers and meatloaf. Co-owner Cinnamon Berg, who runs the kitchen, is now trying to legally sever her business ties with Rogayan, after women came forward accusing him of rape. He has been banned from the restaurant.

On a work break Friday afternoon, Berg told a reporter she had no idea about those allegations until she started seeing rumors on social media this month. Those posts, it turns out, led several women to finally make police reports, said Bellingham Police Sgt. Claudia Murphy.

“They began to recognize there was a pattern,” Murphy said. “Their story was being replicated by other women.”

All six women gave similar stories. Rogayan, they reported, would invite them to his home and offer drugs and/or alcohol. Then he would initiate unwanted intimate contact, according to police.

One woman told a detective Rogayan tried to kiss her, and when she rejected him, he blocked the door, grabbed her, and told her she couldn’t leave. He faces a charge of unlawful imprisonment for that incident. Two other women gave similar stories — except, when they said no, they were raped, they reported.

Police can press charges only in those three cases, due to the state’s three-year statute of limitations on rape cases, Murphy said. One of the women came forward in 2011, but the case was shelved for reasons that Murphy didn’t know, off-hand, on Friday.

“There are all kinds of things that can halt a case,” the sergeant said. “There’s a lot of things you have to go through to get a case to prosecution.”

The case was reopened as new reports started to come in this month.

Nora Hughes, 32, of Bellingham, made one of the most visible Facebook posts, where she praised Berg for banning Rogayan from Cosmos at a staff meeting Sept. 14, in light of the rape allegations.

“So happy to see our community, and badass local business owners like Cinnamon, coming forward to send the message that we will not tolerate rape in our community,” Hughes wrote.

The post was “liked” more than 300 times, and shared by more than 100 people. Hughes said she does not know any of the victims.

“I just believe a woman when she says she’s been raped,” Hughes said.

And Hughes said she believes Berg when she says she didn’t know about Rogayan’s alleged crimes.

“It kind of shows how someone can slip under the radar,” she said, “especially if they’re respected on a professional or business level.”

Some people commented on Hughes’ post that they don’t want to give money to the restaurant until they’re sure their money won’t go to Rogayan. Berg said she’s talking with a lawyer to make sure it won’t. She plans to become the sole owner of the business, and to keep the restaurant going.

“I’m going to take over all of the debts — which are incredible,” Berg said.

Before Cosmos opened, Berg worked with Rogayan for about a year at Avenue Bread. They spent very little time together outside of work but thought they’d be a good match to start up a new restaurant: her with her chef’s background, him with his sociability.

That plan fell apart.

Eleven days after he was banned from his own restaurant, Rogayan was booked into jail around 1 p.m. Friday on charges of rape in the second degree, unlawful imprisonment and indecent liberties — which is sexual contact without penetration, where the victim cannot consent, in this case due to inebriation.

Prosecutors must file formal charges by early next week.

Police hope if there any other victims, that they will come forward, too, even if the statute of limitations has passed.

“That can be the start of the healing process, for the survivor to access services for crime victims,” Murphy said. “It also provides a backdrop for how seriously this man has victimized the community.”

Some victims might be hesitant to talk to police if illegal drugs were involved in their encounter with Rogayan, Murphy said. However, she emphasized, police are not looking to press drug charges against victims of sex crimes.

To make a report, contact the Bellingham Police Department at 360-778-8800. Or call 911.

Also, victims of sexual assault seeking help can reach out to the local Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Services by calling a 24-hour hotline at 360-715-1563 or 877-715-1563.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bhamcaleb.

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