A cyber security specialist suspected of attempting to kidnap at least nine young women in San Diego's North County pleaded not guilty on Thursday.
Spicer Van Allen Conant, 46, faces 16 felony charges including several counts of kidnap, attempted kidnap, contact with a minor with attempt to kidnap, as well as possession of an unlawful assault rifle.
The prosecuting attorney, Garrett Wong told NBC 7 the contact with these women and young girls began back in May of last year.
Wong argued in court Thursday, "Mister Conant, was clearly targeting young juveniles while they were at the school."
But defense attorney Michael Earl argued the alleged kidnappings will be tough to prove in court.
"Kidnapping requires that you take someone against their will with force and fear," stated Earl. "And then after you take them with force and fear, they go a substantial distance. That didn't occur in any of these cases."
Police say he's contacted nine females--seven of them were minors. In each incident, he would ask for directions and then offer the women and girls money to get into his car.
Only two out of the nine females got into his car.
On Monday night, Escondido resident Totis Rodriguez, 27, was walking on Broadway near a Del Taco when Spicer Van Allen Conant, 46, approached her. He was parked in the lot near the eatery and Rodriguez said he blocked her in with his red convertible.
“I walked away from him and he said, ‘Do you need a ride?’ I said, ‘No, thank you,’” Rodriguez recalled. “He said, ‘Hop in, I’ll take you.’”
The stranger’s persistence didn’t sit well with Rodriguez.
“[I said], ‘No, no, no, no, thank you,’ and I panicked,” she added. “I was frightened, I was. I was frightened.”
Rodriguez said Conant “seemed like a normal guy” at first, but things turned.
“At the beginning, I thought it was okay. He was very vulnerable, nice – needs help. But, then his tone of voice changed and he wouldn’t let me walk through where I needed to walk through,” she said.
Thinking fast, Rodriguez grabbed her phone from her back pocket and snapped two photos of Conant. She memorized his license plate.
Rodriguez said a friend had warned her about this man in the area earlier on. That same friend encouraged her to call police to report her strange encounter with him.
She did just that.
One day later, Conant was arrested in Escondido.
After identifying him as a suspect in the attempted kidnapping of Rodriguez and other young women in the area, investigators placed Conant under surveillance.
He asked her for directions, then asked where she was headed.
On Tuesday, officers followed Conant as he drove to Escondido. Conant approached a group of five young women, most of them minors. Again, he asked for directions.
One woman, an 18-year-old, got into his car. At that point, fearing for the young woman’s safety, police officers pulled Conant over on 13th Avenue and Escondido Boulevard and arrested him on suspicion of attempted kidnapping.
While searching Conant’s red car, police found an illegal assault-style rifle and 1,000 rounds of ammunition in the trunk.
Another victim, Escondido mom Kirstin Rangel, told NBC 7 Conant approached her on Mission Avenue last spring to ask her for directions. She also described feeling “scared” during her encounter with him.
The EPD said Conant also allegedly approached a 15-year-old girl on Fig Street and Washington Avenue on May 9, 2016. She got away. Later that same day, he tried to offer a 16-year-old girl $10 for directions to the freeway. That girl got into his car but after driving with Conant for a few blocks, she got nervous and began texting someone. Conant dropped her off and drove away.
On March 15, Conant allegedly approached an 11-year-old girl as she walked to Mission Middle School, again asking for directions. She ignored him and walked away.
The EPD said investigators have reached out to other law enforcement agencies across San Diego County to determine if Conant targeted any other young victims in this manner.
The investigation is ongoing.
He is facing up to 21 years in prison on convicted on all charges.
His bail is set at $2 million.