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 today to unlawful imprisonment, fourth-degree assault and indecent liberties. Commissioner Meagan Foley ordered Hess jailed in lieu of $250,000.
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. 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 her as she walked and continued groping her. When she threatened to call police, Hess 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 victim 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,” according to court records. “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 cell phone 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.
That was the opportunity the victim needed to get safely to her work, where she told a co-worker what happened. After spotting Hess walking around outside, presumably looking for her, the co-worker took his picture with her smart phone and sent it to police.
The on-duty sergeant sent Hess’ picture out department-wide and asked if anybody recognized him, police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said. A detective forwarded it to the Pierce County sheriff’s sex offender unit and one of the deputies recognized Hess because he filed an address change Monday.
In an interview with Tacoma police, Hess denied assaulting the women. When shown one of the photographs 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 say.
Cool said it’s nice to see people using technology like smart phones 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 the most likely to reoffend. He was convicted in 2012 of third-degree assault with sexual motivation for sexually assaulting a woman in Pierce County. Hess was released from prison in January.