San Diego

Deputies Release Security Footage Showing Man Wanted for Groping Teen in Line at Panda Express

Deputies have released security camera footage showing a man wanted for groping a teenager while she was in line at a Panda Express in Vista last month.

Investigators released the video and asked for help from the public in identifying the man.

The 14-year-old said she was standing in line at the restaurant in Vista Village on Wednesday, March 21, when a man walked behind her and grabbed her inappropriately.

By the time she turned around, she said the suspect was nearly out of the building. She shared her story with NBC 7 the day after the incident with hopes that it would give others the courage to speak up in similar situations.

A surveillance camera positioned above the entrance of the restaurant shows the man come in and take his place in line steps away from the door.

He stands there with both hands in his pockets for about 15 seconds before he is seen taking a step forward and reaching out with his left arm and apparently grabbing the victim out of the frame (The reflection of the suspect in the store window offers a better vantage point of the groping).

Within seconds the suspect is already out the door. He ran to his black sedan parked in front of the store and drove off.

"I'm livid. I'm beyond disgusted right now," the victim's mother Jenna Tanis said after seeing the video for the first time. "It makes me wonder what he would do if he were alone with a 14-year-old."

Deputies describe the man as 35 to 45 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing about 200 pounds.

Immediately following the incident, the victim told NBC 7 that she asked the store manager to call 911 but they refused, telling her Panda Express' corporate office did not give them permission due to privacy concerns for the minor.

Tanis also told NBC 7 that when she arrived at the restaurant 20 minutes after her daughter called her, the manager still had not called 911.

In a statement to NBC 7, Panda Express denied that the manager's explanation aligns with their company policy.

"We take the safety of our guests very seriously at Panda Express and do call the authorities if requested by our guests or if our associates see an incident."

The restaurant chain said it would do "everything we can to cooperate with the authorities as they further their investigation."

"It's so terrifying," Tanis told NBC 7 in March. "We don't even know if this person knows her. Has he been watching her? Was this a random thing? Do we have to worry about him showing up around her again?"

The mother said the area is a popular hangout spot for local kids. A Cinepolis movie theater is located across the street and there are several popular dining spots.

"There is a predator that needs to be held responsible," Tanis said. "For all I know, he could have been held responsible last night, had they taken the correct steps."

In previous reports, NBC 7 did not identify the victim or her mother and altered their voices.

The San Diego Sheriff's Department (SDSO) said detectives have been interviewing known sex offenders in the area trying to come with a match.

San Diego Crime Stoppers is offering up to $1,000 for information that leads to his arrest.

The SDSO is asking anyone who recognizes the man in the video to call the Vista Sheriff's Station at (760) 940-4551 or call the Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line at (888) 580-8477.

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