Former Connecticut College cook to go on trial, accused of sexual assault

New London - A former cook at Connecticut College who is accused of groping two women on campus last year is scheduled to go on trial this week in New London Superior Court.

Jose A. Lopez, 46, of Waterford has pleaded not guilty to charges of third-degree sexual assault, fourth-degree sexual assault and second-degree unlawful restraint.

The alleged victims, a 21-year-old female student and a 26-year-old woman who was visiting her mother at work, reported to New London police last year that Lopez sexually assaulted them in the Harris Dining Hall on campus.

Lopez, represented by attorneys Matthew G. Berger and Pamala J. Favreau, has opted for a trial. Jury selection is underway in New London Superior Court and the evidence portion of the trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday before Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed. Senior Assistant State's attorney Sarah E. Steere and Marissa Goldberg, a legal fellow, are prosecuting.

According to arrest warrant affidavits, the 21-year-old woman contacted the college's Campus Safety Department and the Sexual Violence Education & Advocacy coordinator on March 20, 2012, to report that she was working on her computer in the dining hall when Lopez squeezed in next to her in a booth, put her in "a tilted position" so that she was almost lying down, put her leg between his two legs and "aggressively" touched her sexually through the legging-type pants she was wearing. She said she immediately grabbed his hand asked him what he was doing, and that he responded, "You don't want that?" and removed his hands and legs from her.

She said that her cellphone rang, and Lopez got up from the booth when she answered the call, said something to her and laughed as he returned to the kitchen. She said she had trouble calming herself after the incident and was unable to leave the dining hall for about an hour. The incident occurred during spring break. The student said she had known Lopez for four years and described him as being a friend. She said he had hugged her and other females, and she never felt uncomfortable around him in the past.

In the days after the incident, she met with several college officials and a counselor from the women's center in New London. The college's Dean of Student Life contacted police two days after the incident to say that the student wanted to file a criminal complaint.

While investigating the student's allegations, the college's Human Resources Department learned of an earlier complaint against Lopez and encouraged the alleged victim, the 26-year-old daughter of a staff member at the college, to report the incident to New London police.

On April 19, 2012, the 26-year-old woman told New London Detective Franklin S. Jarvis that Lopez had sexually assaulted her while she was visiting her mother at work about 2½ months earlier. She said Lopez, whom she had known since 2004 when he worked elsewhere and considered a friend, had approached her from behind as she stood in the dining hall. She said he stood to her left, put his hand on the middle of her back, then slid his hand down the back of her yoga pants and groped her. She said she pulled his hand out of her pants, kissed her mother goodbye and left immediately, feeling angry and anxious. She did not immediately report the incident, she said, because she had decided she did not want to cause unneeded stress and decided to "bottle it up and deal with it."

She said that 2½ years before the incident, during another visit to the dining hall, Lopez had made a comment that made her uncomfortable. She had told her mother about the comment, and the mother reported it to the Human Resources Department, according to the affidavit.

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