Investigators are conducting an extensive background check on a police officer accused of raping a teacher, suspecting that it wasn't the first time he struck since joining the police force three years ago, officials said Thursday.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters that detectives have identified other, unsolved sex attacks that could potentially be linked to Officer Michael Pena. He declined to give specifics.
"This is a very, very disturbing case," Kelly said following a promotion ceremony at police headquarters in lower Manhattan. "We've looked at other incidents to see if this individual may be involved. That part of the investigation is certainly still going forward."
Kelly also said that other department personnel, including psychologists, were examining Pena's history on and off the job for more clues.
The brazen nature of the attack suggests "that something else happened in the past, that it was not the first time," he said. "But so far we cannot say with any sort of certitude there was another incident."
There was no immediate response to a phone message left Thursday for one of Pena's attorneys. They have said he never intended to harm anyone, but they haven't detailed his version of what happened.
Police allege a drunken, off-duty Pena approached the 25-year-old woman in upper Manhattan last week and asked her how to get to a subway stop. Then he grabbed her, showed her a gun, ushered her several blocks to an apartment building backyard and raped her, police say. A resident of the building called 911, saying she saw from her window that something was happening in the yard.
Pena, 27, was arrested in the backyard after the woman ran to the arriving officers and warned them he had a gun, police said. Officers didn't realize Pena was a colleague until they found his police ID upon arresting him, they said.
Pena has been indicted, but the charges weren't immediately disclosed. He is being held on $1 million bond at least until a Sept. 21 court date.
The arrest came about three months after two other New York Police Department officers were acquitted of charges they raped a drunken woman they had been called to help get home. They were convicted of official misconduct for repeatedly returning to the woman's apartment while telling dispatchers they were elsewhere. They were fired after the verdict.
Pena, whose lawyers said he is engaged to be married, has been on the police force since 2008. He has been suspended without pay.