A convicted sex offender released from prison three months ago is accused of trying to sexually assault two women Tuesday in Tacoma before being chased off by passersby.
Vern Hess II, 26, was arrested Tuesday night at a transit center as he boarded a bus for classes at a local community college. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of unlawful imprisonment, fourth-degree assault and indecent liberties. Pierce County Commissioner Meagan Foley ordered a shackled Hess jailed on $250,000 bail.
Charging papers give this account:
A 36-year-old woman visited a friend at the group home Hess was staying at in the 3600 block of McKinley Avenue about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday. Hess asked her into his room to talk, then offered money to see her naked and have her perform sex acts. After he began groping her, she told him to stop and left to walk home.
He followed as she walked and continued groping her. When she threatened to call police, he grabbed her by the hair, threw her to the ground and punched her in the chest and stomach. He fled after a woman heard the victim’s screams and came out of a nearby home to help.
Less than nine hours later, Hess was smoking a cigarette when a woman paying for parking caught his eye in the 1700 block of Fawcett Avenue. He began following her as she walked to work, asking first for the time and then for a light.
As the 31-year-old woman turned to confront him and demand he stop harassing her, Hess grabbed her “in a bear hug from the front and lifted her off the ground. She tried to get away but couldn’t because her feet were off the ground. (She) struggled with the defendant until a citizen saw what was happening and pulled him off her.”
The woman had left her cellphone at work and could not call for help. As she continued walking, Hess kept following her until a man came out of a nearby business and confronted him.
The woman took the opportunity to get safely to her work, where she told a co-worker what had happened. After spotting Hess walking around outside the building, presumably looking for her, the co-worker took Hess’ photo with her phone and sent it to police.
The on-duty sergeant sent the photo out department-wide and asked whether anyone recognized him, police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said. A detective forwarded the photo to the Pierce County sheriff’s sex offender unit, and a deputy recognized Hess because he filed an address change Monday.
The photo also was recognized as a student who uses the downtown transit center. Police went to the center at 610 Puyallup Ave. and arrested him when he showed up.
In an interview with police after his arrest, Hess denied assaulting the women. When shown one of the photos taken by the second victim’s co-worker, he acknowledged it was him.
“He was asked why a stranger would take a picture of him if he did nothing wrong, and he said he didn’t know,” court records state.
Cool said it was good to see people using technology like smartphones to help police solve crimes.
“The citizens did a great job with this, and we were able to capture the guy within a few hours,” she said.
Hess is a Level 3 sex offender, which means he’s considered likely to reoffend. He was convicted in 2012 of third-degree assault with sexual motivation for sexually assaulting a woman in Pierce County. He was released from prison in January.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653