“I will do whatever to keep my student’s safe,” Noah Winchester, former corporal with the Los Rios Police Department once said.
That statement came during a November 2014 ride along with a former American River College Current reporter who observed Winchester conducting an off-campus drug bust.
What seemed like a well-intentioned statement six years ago is now proving to be ironic for students and staff who remember the former cop in light of recent events.
On Oct. 9, 2019, Winchester, 35, was convicted in the San Mateo County Superior Court for sexually assaulting three women in San Mateo, after a 20-day trial that resulted in guilty verdicts on 14 charges. He was sentenced 81 years to life in state prison, according to San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, as reported by the Daily Journal.
Winchester was arrested in July 2016 and had been in custody on a $3.1 million bail for six months prior to his sentencing.
In an email interview with the Current, Gabe Ross, Los Rios Community College district associate vice chancellor, said that after Winchester’s 2019 conviction and sentencing, the LRPD issued a statement that read, in part, “We are extremely happy that justice has been served for Noah Winchester’s victims … [We are] committed to keeping our college communities safe, and we will vigorously pursue severe consequences for anyone whose actions belie that commitment.”
Winchester was charged in 2016 with 22 felony counts of sexual assaults involving incidents as an officer on duty in San Mateo in 2015 and when he was an officer for the LRCCD police department in 2013, according to San Mateo County prosecutors, who also confirmed he had five victims between July 2, 2013 and Oct. 19, 2015.
Wagstaffe said those charges included kidnapping with intent to commit rape, rape, sexual penetration and oral copulation under color authority, battery, criminal threats and forceable sex offenses, as reported by Bay City News, who covered Winchester’s arrests in 2016.
According to Winchester’s case file, The People of the State of California v. Noah White Winchester, many of these charges were also enhanced because he had a weapon in his possession during the act.
The case file also noted he was ordered to take an HIV test in November 2019, and those results will be reviewed at his next scheduled court appearance on March 2.
WInchester and his attorney, Paul F. DeMeemster, recently put in their notice to file for an appeal regarding his recent prison sentence as of Feb. 4.
According to Ross, Winchester served as a police officer for LRCCD, rotating through Los Rios campuses from January 2009 to July 2016, under the authority of former LRPD chief of police, Cheryl Sears, and was the subject of an investigation during his time of employment with the LRPD for unsubstantiated allegations of inappropriate behavior.
“That investigation was led by …[the Sacramento Police Department], [which] completed the investigation and found the evidence to be inconclusive,” Ross wrote.
Following Winchester’s arrests in 2016, LRPD released a statement that read in part, “The safety and security of our community is our highest priority. If these allegations are proven to be true, that would be horrific for the women who were victimized. Such criminal behavior is contrary to the core values and mission of the Los Rios Community College District.”
According to other news reports, Los Rios district spokesperson Mitchel Bensen said Winchester worked for LRPD up until January 2015, and began work as a police officer in San Mateo shortly after.
At the time of his hire in San Mateo, he was already being investigated in Sacramento and had also been under investigation for six months in San Mateo prior to his resignation with their police force in February 2016, according to Bay City News.
Winchester had also been briefly employed with the Sacramento Police Department from 2006 to 2007, but left before his probationary period was up, according to the Bay City News article.
The Daily Journal recently reported Winchester’s confirmed sexual assault incidents involved multiple young women under the age of 25. One of the assaults Winchester was convicted of happened in Sacramento in July 2013, when he forced a 21-year-old woman who was sleeping in a building exterior elevator with her three children present, to have sex with him.
According to Ross, Los Rios Police Department officers are hired by the department and then assigned to individual campuses. Ross said currently, ARC has four officers on campus and is in the process of hiring two additional officers. Since Winchester’s arrests and sentencing, LRPD has taken measures to improve their hiring processes, Ross said.
Ross said that these hiring changes were not made entirely because of the Winchester incident, but that it was a strong contributing factor. Over the last several years, the LRPD has taken a different approach to hiring and is no longer hiring individuals who have had any past or present disciplinary issues with outside agencies.
“LRPD is no longer a ‘second chance department,’ a term commonly used for agencies that recruit officers who have had minor struggles previously,” Ross wrote.
Although the LRPD has changed its hiring approach, it doesn’t mean other police agencies are taking the same measures. The question still remains as to why Winchester was hired in San Mateo while the subject of an investigation with another police force. Ross clarified in an email with the Current that LRPD will always prioritize the safety of staff and students when swearing in new officers.
“I cannot speak for San Mateo or any other agency regarding their hiring practices or procedures. In the Los Rios Police Department, we do not and would not hire an officer who has an active investigation pending against them,” Ross wrote. “The shift in focus from the quantity of officers we are hiring to the quality of officers we are hiring has helped us attract more qualified and experienced officers.”