Sammy Westfall

Following a monthslong investigation into a series of connected sexual assault cases, the New Haven Police Department has released information about the investigation that led to the arrest of 26-year-old Navardo Lockhart — an Elm City resident suspected of being involved in eight different cases of sexual assault as early as 2016 around the Edgewood area.

The NHPD arrested Lockhart on Sept. 15, 2018, on two sexual assault warrants issued for incidents that occurred on May 24 and Aug. 26. He has been incarcerated since his arrest last September and pleaded not guilty to the charges in November. Since his arrest, Lockhart has been connected to six additional sexual assault incidents — two in 2016, one in 2017 and three in 2018. Three active arrest warrants will be served on his next court date March 1, with bonds totaling $650,000. The earliest link to Lockhart’s DNA was two kits in 2016.

“Sexual assaults are under reported by victims due to shame and fear. The collection of forensic evidence of the victims is very invasive. We want to highlight the strength of our victims, and all sexual assault victims, who are an integral part in a police investigation,” said Lt. Renee Dominguez in an NHPD press release sent to the News on Feb. 19.

In April 2018, New Haven police detectives received information that women who were “perceived prostitutes” were sexually assaulted and robbed in the Edgewood Park area, according to an NHPD press release. NHPD Sgt. Mary Helland, who runs the Special Victims Unit, and a team of detectives canvassed the Edgewood Area, looking to locate and identify other victims. The team spoke to several women in the area, including some victims who had not filed any initial reports and did not want to pursue their cases. The detectives encouraged the females to report any incidents of sexual assault, as well as to visit a hospital for treatment and get a rape kit — a forensic exam that gathers and preserves DNA evidence.

“We went out to tell them: We are here to help you. We need you to come forward,” Dominguez said at a private interview Feb. 20 at the NHPD with the Yale Daily News and WFSB Channel 3.

Based on the canvass, the suspect description provided was of a “black male, dreads or short braids, facial hair, approximately 20 years old, with a Caribbean accent,” according to the NHPD press release.

Helland began examining all reports of sexual assaults, attempted sexual assaults and suspicious person complaints that were consistent with the location and the suspect’s behavioral patterns and identifiers. Officers were deployed with Special Victims Unit detectives to the Edgewood area to conduct surveillance and attempt to identify the possible suspect for the two May 2018 incidents.

On Aug. 26, 2018, officers and detectives responded to a sexual assault complaint in the basement of 66 Norton St., where the suspect displayed a weapon. The victim reported being sexually assaulted and that the perpetrator robbed her of her cell phone, according to Helland. The victim notified NHPD Detective Leonardo Soto of the incident.

“A couple of days later, the victim reached out to Detective Soto and explained that she got a replacement phone, and now, when she signed into her account on her iCloud, photographs were generating of the person who had sexually assaulted her a couple days prior,” Helland told the News.

Helland said that the detectives obtained the suspects’ phone records, analyzed phone calls that he had made and tracked his previous locations via GPS. Through cross-referencing this information, Detective Joshua Kyle and Soto identified a suspect that had similar characteristics to the person whose photos populated the phone, Helland said. This led them to Lockhart.

Following his arrest, Lockhart’s identification led the detectives to uncover additional sexual assault victims. Helland began a case-by-case comparison of Lockhart’s DNA to similar cases where DNA evidence was collected. Helland contacted the Connecticut State Forensic Lab, which linked six additional sexual assault evidence kits to Lockhart’s DNA profile.

According to Helland, Lockhart had a very “minimal criminal history” — a single misdemeanor and a motor vehicle stop. He is neither a convicted felon nor did he have DNA in the police database. Helland said all the assaults were consistent in location as well as suspect patterns and identifiers.

“All of the victims were perceived by [Lockhart] to be prostitutes or sex workers,” Dominguez told the News. “They were all in the same general area. … Some were approached for requesting sex or money, and some it was just a conversation he brought up to them to engage them. Then he would pull them into a building, an alley, a backyard.”

According to the press release, because Lockhart is not a convicted felon, his DNA has not yet been entered into the national database. Once it is entered, any new linked cases will be investigated.

NHPD Assistant Chief Herb Johnson said in the press release that these cases illustrate the challenges that victims go through when trying to report a sexual assault and the stigma attached not only with sexual assault, but also with the police as well.

Kyle stressed the importance of reporting a sexual assault incident, especially when it is part of a pattern. Talking to victims, he had to create a rapport between two “people,” not one cop and one sex worker. Many victims avoid talking to the police out of fear that they are doing something wrong in the first place and that the police will arrest them, according to Kyle.

“At this point it’s not just about you, it’s about a lot of other women,” Kyle tells victims of sexual assault. “You may not want to do it for you, but do it for these other women. It makes the case stronger. We can get this guy off the street. Because if he is still going to be out there, there is the chance that he could do it again, he could do it to a friend, it could escalate and he could kill someone.”

Helland told the News that because he has been identified as a suspect in at least eight sexual assault cases, she considers him a “serial rapist.”

Sammy Westfall | sammy.westfall@yale.edu