Man, 19, to be charged in Camden sexual assaults

Posted: February 23, 2012

A Camden man detained Thursday as a suspect in a robbery is expected to also be charged in a series of daytime sexual assaults in the city in the area of Farnham Park, near Baird and Park Boulevards, authorities said.

Kevin D. Cleveland, 19, of the 400 block of Rand Street, was taken into custody earlier in the day in the robbery of a "juvenile female" in Farnham Park about 12:30 p.m. Jan. 2 - more than two weeks before the first of three confirmed sexual assaults, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office and Camden police said.

County Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk told reporters that, "based upon evidence obtained," authorities would charge Cleveland by Friday with aggravated sexual assault in at least two of the incidents.

Two of the three assaults happened in January and one in February. In one case, the victim was threatened with a gun and in another with a knife, Faulk said. The attacks happened in a secluded area off the Baird Boulevard Bridge, which is undergoing repairs.

Authorities also said Janira Lebron, 25, of Camden, who alleged Wednesday afternoon that she had been sexually assaulted in East Camden not too far from the location of the previous attacks, was charged later that day with providing false information.

"This is a strong sense of relief," said Stephanie Dixon, 33, the mother of 14-year-old and 9-year-old girls, who lives near where Lebron claimed she had been attacked.

Dixon received phone calls Thursday that someone was in custody, and her eldest also came home saying, "They found the rapist."

"There is a strong sense of community, that's why people were really upset," said Dixon, a nursing assistant and a lifelong city resident.

In a sketch and a description released last week, authorities portrayed the suspect as a black man between 20 and 30 years old, 5-foot-7 to 6-foot tall, and with light-brown eyes. The suspect was said to have been wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt.

Authorities declined to say whether physical evidence linked Cleveland to any of the assaults, which occurred Jan. 17 and 22 and Feb. 11, all between 3 and 5:30 p.m.

Two of the victims were adolescents, and the third was in her 20s, authorities said.

"I'm happy to tell the residents of the City of Camden that this animal is behind bars," Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson told reporters.

New Jersey State Police and FBI were also involved in the investigation.

Wednesday's report of what was believed to be the fourth sexual assault in the same general area had authorities mobilizing at least 25 city officers, along with state police and county sheriff's officers, as well as police dogs, going door to door for hours.

A sexual-assault nurse examiner and victim and witness advocates had also rushed to the scene near Baird Boulevard and Randolph Street, Faulk said.

Authorities said that, at the time that Lebron, of the 200 block of South 27th Street, filed the report, investigators following a tip had identified Cleveland as "a person of interest" in the assaults. Her action delayed his being taken into custody, they said.

"All it did was perpetuate more fear," Dixon said of the false report.

Lebron had actually been involved in a domestic incident with an acquaintance, authorities said. She was issued a summons and released.

It was the second unfounded report of a sexual assault in the area after one in December.

Faulk said such false allegations create public hysteria, deter real victims from coming forward, and possibly make investigators more skeptical of other reports.

"It's insulting to the real victims of sexual assaults."

The handling of the attacks has riled some residents, who say they were not told promptly of the crimes. A group of residents plans to hold a news conference Friday near Baird and Park to address the matter.

"We have a right to know when it's the first rape . . . and every rape after the first," said Ali Sloan El, a former councilman and activist and one of the organizers.

City officials had sent out a news release Feb. 13 about the series of assaults, and at a community meeting the same day, Thomson alerted residents to the attacks.

Faulk said the public was notified once there was enough information to link the assaults and to determine that the complaints were legitimate.

"We have a responsibility to release valid, credible information," Thomson said Thursday, "and it's important for us . . . not to push every accusation or allegation out there as quickly as possible."


Contact staff writer Darran Simon at 856-779-3829, dsimon@phillynews.com, or @darransimon on Twitter.

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