UCF police discover 'hunting ground' for serial groper
Detectives cross-reference keycard logs with computer logins, surveillance video
ORLANDO, Fla. – Detective Jeff Panter, of the University of Central Florida Police Department, got his big break in the search for a serial groper on campus last month when he discovered surveillance video showing a man who matched the description of the suspect.
Panter had checked almost every camera on campus and poured over hours of video until he spotted a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt carrying a lunchbox -- the same description a woman who was attacked in Parking Garage C in January gave police when she called 911.
"A guy just came up to me and told me that his car died," the woman told 911 dispatchers. "He was in a gray sweatshirt. He told me that car died and he needed a jump."
Panter discovered video of the man walking out of the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers, or CREOL, building and across the street to Parking Garage C minutes before the attack.
Panter said that, after the attack, the man changed his appearance.
"He was no longer wearing a sweatshirt and using it to conceal the lunchbox he was holding," Panter said.
Just as police arrived at the parking garage with car lights flashing, Panter said, the man could be seen driving away with his wife, who, Panter said, routinely picks him up in the parking lot next to the CREOL building.
Armed with that information, Panter backed up the tape to earlier that morning and discovered the same man entered the CREOL building with a friend.
Panter and UCF police Cmdr. James Mangan checked keycard logs to track down the friend.
"We spoke with the person and he identified the suspect as letting him in that day," Mangan said.
Mangan said Abdullah Zaman, a doctoral student from Saudi Arabia, was the man in the video. He works in the CREOL building.
Mangan and Panter mapped out the attacks in relation to the building.
"All our attacks happened or started in this area," Mangan said. "The CREOL building is his home base and the surrounding buildings would be his hunting ground, where all of the attacks happened or started with."
UCF police activated their campuswide alert system to notify all 60,000 students via text, email and social media.
Mangan said as many as six women came forward to say that, over the period of several months, they had been groped by a man matching Zaman's description.
"This wasn't the typical investigation, because we all took this to heart. We all are parents and part of the UCF community," Mangan said. "We put out decoys -- female officers dressed as students -- hoping the suspect would approach them. We hired overtime police officers to patrol the areas."
Mangan said that, when police arrested Zaman, he had an alibi: He was eating ice cream off campus with his 2-year-old daughter. So Mangan and Panter checked campus network records and said they saw Zaman was logged onto the network on campus during the times of the attacks.
"We couldn't solve this sitting behind a computer," Mangan said. "We had to go out, walk the areas, look for the cameras. We were worried about other victims. He showed he wasn't going to stop."
Mangan said five of the six victims picked Zaman out of a photo lineup.
Zaman is charged with misdemeanor battery, not sexual battery, for the groping crimes.
Because the crimes are misdemeanors, if Zaman is convicted, he may receive only probation, Mangan said.
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