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One of two suspects released in connection with sex attacks

By Leigh Remizowski, CNN
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 19, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Police have released one of two men arrested
  • Police say 20 sex crimes have been reported in Brooklyn since March
  • They are also investigating assaults in Queens
  • Residents say they feel uneasy, especially at night

New York (CNN) -- Charges have been dropped against one of two men arrested in connection with a string of sex attacks in New York City, police said Wednesday.

The decision to clear Joshua Flecha, 32, of Queens, came after a victim of the attacks recanted her identification, a New York Police Department spokesman said. The victim also refused to sign legal documents that identified Flecha as her attacker, said the police spokesman, who went unnamed, according to department policy.

Flecha was arrested Monday on suspicion of marijuana possession and was later charged with forcible touching and sexual abuse. He had been picked up while walking down a Brooklyn street with his pants unzipped and watching a pornographic video on his cell phone, police said.

Neither Flecha nor his attorney could be immediately reached for comment.

The May incident is just one of 20 sex crimes reported in Brooklyn since March, said police spokesman Marc Nell.

Police say they are also looking into sexual assaults in Queens.

Adolfo Martinez, 26, was arrested on October 11 and charged with forcible touching and sexual abuse after an October incident in which a man grabbed an 18-year-old woman's buttocks and fled, according to a police statement. Attempts to contact Martinez or his attorney were also unsuccessful.

Both arrests were part of a pattern of sex crimes in Brooklyn that could involve as many as four suspects, police had said. Many of the attacks have been classified by authorities as sexual assault or attempted sexual assault, according to the NYPD.

One such incident occurred on September 21, when a 29-year-old woman entered a subway station and was grabbed from behind and groped. Police said the suspect then fled.

Despite the arrests, Brooklyn residents say they feel uneasy, especially at night.

"There are a lot of rumors flying around. Are there copycats?" said Brian McNally, owner of the Black Horse Pub in Brooklyn's Park Slope. "It seems to still be going on."

Park Slope and Sunset Park are the areas in Brooklyn where police said the attacks have been most concentrated.

In the wake of the recent attacks, McNally said he makes sure his female bartenders never close the bar alone at night. Many of them have made it a habit to take cabs or find someone to walk them home instead of leaving by themselves, he said.

"As a woman, I don't stay out late anymore," said 65-year-old Brooklyn resident Elaine Castro, a waitress at a bar called Rhythm and Booze. Castro said she has lived in the neighborhood her entire life and has never felt so unsafe outside her home.

"I know a lot of women don't feel safe," Castro added.

Brooklyn resident Jay Ruiz, 46, said when he first heard about the series of sexual assaults in September, it hit close to home.

"All I could think about was my mother, my wife," said Ruiz, who has since started up the Brooklyn Bike Patrol -- a brigade of men who have registered with the local police precinct and are available after dark to escort women from subway stations, bars and restaurants to their homes.

"I just want to get people home safe," Ruiz said.

Emily May, a Park Slope resident and the co-founder of Hollaback!, an organization that works to combat street harassment, said she has changed her routine since hearing about the sex attacks near her home.

"It's bizarre, because it's threatening at your core," said May, who said she often takes a cab when she exits the subway instead of walking home.

"Most people tell you that sexual violence happens with people that you know," she said, "and these are not people that we know."

CNN's Jason Kessler contributed to this report.

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