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Provo man arrested in assault on 2 girls

He has history of impersonating police in crimes

PROVO — A Provo man with a history of assaulting women after telling them he is a police officer is being investigated again, this time in the reported sexual assault of two Provo girls during a faked police search.

Travis Spencer Newell, 24, had been out of prison for exactly three weeks when he was arrested Tuesday in connection with the incident. He had been imprisoned for two previous cases of impersonating an officer — one in Layton in 1999 and another in Orem in May.

In the current case, two girls, one 16 and the other 14, were walking home from a store Tuesday in the area of 900 W. 500 South when a man stopped them, Provo Police Officer Mark Crosby said.

Police say the man claimed he was a police officer and told the girls to get out of the middle of the road.

The man was on a bicycle and the girls walked away, skeptical of his claim, Crosby said.

He approached them again and produced a Utah identity card, then told the girls they were acting suspicious and that he needed to search them, police say.

Crosby said the man committed forcible sexual abuse when he patted down each girl. Crosby would not elaborate. No formal charges have been filed. Newell remains in the Utah County Jail on $15,000 bail.

Newell was paroled from the Utah State Prison on Oct. 5 after finishing a term for a parole violation. He could have remained incarcerated until next year because 4th District Judge John Backlund sentenced him to six months in jail for impersonating an officer to a 16-year-old girl in Orem.

However, Backlund suspended that sentence —with agreement from a city attorney — after Newell wrote him a letter from the prison.

Newell was 18 when he was first accused in public court records of impersonating an officer.

In 1999, he told two women at a Layton trailer park that he was a police officer. He put a gun to one woman's head and threatened to kill both women unless they told him everything they were doing, according to a court document obtained by the Deseret Morning News.

He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, a third-degree felony, but was released on probation. Newell violated that probation agreement just six weeks later when he stole a vehicle in Springville. He then served more than four years in prison.

He was paroled in January, prison spokesman Jack Ford said.

Ford said Newell was released to a halfway house but became a fugitive on April 28 when he walked away from the home. Eight days later, on May 6, Orem police say Newell stopped a 16-year-old girl in the area of 1600 South and 400 East. He claimed to be a police officer and said he wanted to ask her some questions.

"The man invited her to sit under a tree with him," Orem Police Lt. Doug Edwards said. "The girl was feeling very uneasy about the encounter but stayed in case the man was truly a police officer. The man finally removed all doubt about being a police officer when he commented to the girl that she sure was cute and tried to kiss her.

"She pushed her way free and ran away as fast as she could."

Newell returned to prison for the parole violation. He then pleaded guilty on June 3 to a class B misdemeanor in the May Orem case and Backlund sentenced him to six months in jail. The six months were to start "consecutive to any other case," Backlund ruled.

Then, Newell sent Backlund the letter from prison on July 25.

"I respectfully request that my jail sentence imposed be abolished as I now am currently serving time in the Utah State Prison," Newell wrote. "I am granted a parole date of Oct. 5, 2004, and upon release plan to go to therapy and have a full-time job which will be held until Oct. 30."

Newell asked Backlund to impose a $1,000 fine he would pay by Jan. 1. He also promised to stay out of Orem for one year, complete probation and take anger-management classes.

A city attorney did not object and on Aug. 13, Backlund suspended the jail sentence and the fine.

Ford said Newell did not attend his therapy or anger management classes.

Police officers carry two forms of identification — a badge and an ID card — even undercover or plainclothes officers, Crosby said.

"If people have a cell phone and don't trust that the person is a police officer, they can call 911 while they're talking with this person or walking away or going to a nearby house," he said. "If he or she is a Provo police officer, you should be able to verify that through 911 very quickly."

Those wary of being stopped by an apparently unmarked patrol car also can call 911 or drive to the police station or a well-lit, heavily populated area.

Crosby said the teenage girls made possible Tuesday's arrest, which happened soon after the incident at a nearby apartment.

"The girls did a good job going right home and telling an adult," he said. "A lot of people don't, and these things go undetected."