- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) — About two weeks after he was released from prison, Freddie Johnson was arrested on charges of illegally rubbing up against a woman on a crowded Manhattan subway train.

Johnson has been arrested 53 times — the majority for groping women on subway trains.

In his latest arrest, Johnson was being followed by plainclothes officers who recognized him from police photos. He was charged with persistent sexual abuse, and if convicted this time he could be sent away for life.

But the fact that Johnson was roaming the subways in the first place has raised questions about how the state deals with the problem of repeat sex offenders. His case even drew the scorn of a recent newspaper editorial that labeled him the “Subway Rat.”

His attorney, Afsi Khot, had no comment on the case.

Johnson, 49, has been convicted at least twice of persistent sexual abuse within the past decade. And he has a lengthy record, with 30 arrests on charges of sex abuse, 13 on jostling accusations and two grand larceny charges.

Prosecutors say they aren’t sure whether Johnson chose his subway targets before boarding trains, or if he would randomly pick out a woman after he was on a train. In his latest arrest, the undercover transit officers said it appeared that he chose the woman at random, district attorney’s spokeswoman Jennifer Kushner said yesterday.

In a jail interview with the Daily News of New York, Johnson said he never touched that woman. However, prosecutors assert he was carrying a messenger bag over the front of his torso, slid it to the back to illegally rub up against the woman, and then moved the bag back to the front to avoid being caught.

He was released from prison March 25 after serving four years for persistent sexual abuse. The state attorney general’s office had argued he should be confined under the state’s civil commitment law for sex offenders, which went into effect last year, because he was at risk for repeat offenses.

A judge disagreed and instead placed Johnson on strict court-ordered supervision and electronic monitoring. Under the mental health laws governing his situation, officials generally can’t comment on details of his supervision.

Whether he should have been confined speaks to a larger issue about what authorities should do with criminals who aren’t violent offenders.

Gropers often avoid prosecution because they usually strike in crowded public places so they can easily escape. It is suspected that about half are repeat offenders, among the highest of all the sex-related crimes, but there isn’t much crossover into more egregious acts such as rape or assault, said Elizabeth Jeglic, a professor of treatment and rehabilitation of offenders at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Johnson was quoted as telling the Daily News that plenty of men try to grope women on subways, and admitted he has been doing it for more than 25 years since he saw another man rub against a woman on a train and dash away unpunished.

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