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After Pittsfield rape arrest, officials urge other possible victims to come forward

harrington (copy)

Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington says violence against women is at a "crisis" point in Berkshire County. “We’re all responsible for addressing this violence," she said Wednesday, as her office detailed charges against a 20-year-old Pittsfield man. 

PITTSFIELD — Law enforcement officials are calling for other possible sexual assault victims to come forward following the arrest Tuesday of a Pittsfield man in connection with alleged rapes.

Members of the newly formed Violent Crime Task Force arrested Lucius Copeland, 20, after an investigation by police officers in Pittsfield, Hinsdale and Lee connected him with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl and a 14-year-old girl last summer.

Copeland’s arrest is the first to come as a result of the task force, whose stated mission is to build investigatory capability in local police departments.

Copeland is being held pending a dangerousness hearing in Central Berkshire District Court on Jan. 4.

He pleaded not guilty to two counts of aggravated rape and a single count of rape of a child.

Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington said in a news conference Wednesday that two of the alleged assaults occurred in Pittsfield and another occurred in Lanesborough.

She said the alleged assaults were violent and point to a need to address sexual violence. “It really should be unthinkable and it happens more than many of us would like to admit,” Harrington said.

“We have a crisis in Berkshire County of violence against women and girls,” Harrington said. “We’re all responsible for addressing this violence.”

Harrington said the task force believes there could be other victims who have not reported assaults, allegedly by Copeland. Her office is urging any other victims to contact the Berkshire State Police Detective Unit at 413-499-1112.

The alleged victims were known to Copeland, Harrington said. The accused employed social media to communicate with them.

The district attorney’s office launched the task force in late September to improve how violent crimes are investigated in the region. Harrington said Wednesday the goal is, in part, to build expertise among smaller police departments.

Officers Elizabeth Zipp in Hinsdale and William Pleu of Lee became the main investigators after the Copeland case was referred to the task force. “We were really able to rely on them to conduct the investigation,” Harrington said. A Pittsfield Police Department investigation began in September but expanded after other complaints came in, she said.

Harrington likened the work of the new task force to an established drug crimes task force. She said the new task force shifts a focus to gender-based violence and violent crime in general, including sexual assaults, domestic violence and human trafficking.

“Now we’re training officers across the county to (handle) sexual assaults,” she said. “It will spread expertise on how to handle investigations.”

“Part of this is sensitivity to the needs of victims in these kinds of cases,” Harrington said, “so that we can do the best work …. and seek justice and be sensitive to the needs of victims.”

At the time of its launch in September, the task force included eight officers from five police departments, among them Great Barrington, Lee, Pittsfield, Hinsdale and North Adams.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Managing editor for innovation

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.

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