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Utah County parents want swift action against man harassing teen girls

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Posted at 12:39 PM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-07 20:22:07-04

UTAH COUNTY, Utah — A man is under investigation for inappropriate behavior toward young girls in Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs, but some in the community believe police are not acting fast enough.

The Utah County Sheriff's Office identified the man as 78-year-old Kenneth Lee Strickland from Cedar Fort. They say they have submitted a case to prosecutors requesting a charge against him of disorderly conduct.

In the meantime, teen girls who say this man harassed them are coming forward, and sharing their story with the public.

READ: Man banned from store for allegedly harassing teen girls

As reported earlier, four teenage girls reported the man approached them at the Eagle Mountain Ridley's last week, made inappropriate suggestive comments, and grabbed one of the girl's arms.

He had talked about wanting to take them to Mexico, they later told the Utah County Sheriff's Office, because of what the laws would allow for him to do with the girls.

The girls ran, and the mother who was with them stepped in and confronted him. They called 911, and began to record the incident and take pictures.

In the video, a girl walks up and says, "He just tried to grab my hand again," as the mother is dealing with the man.

"We were all just like shaking, and about to cry and stuff," one of the teens said, to Fox 13. "It was just a really horrible experience for all of us."

When Kate Espinoza-- another mom of one of the girls-- posted the incident on Facebook, she said she received many comments from others in the community who echoed the same experience with this same man.

“Whatever is going on with that man, it needs to be handled by the authorities when it’s happening so that he can get help and we can protect our kids,” she said.

Many of those people also recounted their experiences to Fox 13.

They said he approached them in various stores, riding in the motorized cart and making comments to young teens and girls. One mother told Fox 13 he admitted to her that he, "likes little girls." This happened after the man rode by on his motorized cart and grabbed a young girl's neck in the Saratoga Springs Smith's, the mother said.

That woman said she reported the incident to Saratoga Springs Police in March of 2020. She isn't sure what came of the case. Fox 13 made a records request, and is waiting to hear back.

Another woman told Fox 13 that in February of this year, the same man she identified based on picture and video of last week's incident rode up to her and her daughter in Walmart in Saratoga Springs. He grabbed cookies and was trying to wave her daughter over while making comments, she recounted.

That mother said she immediately walked away, and the man tried to follow them. Eventually, she said, they were able to get away from him. She did not report the incident to police at the time, but said she now wishes she did.

On top of those experiences, Utah County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Spencer Cannon said the man was previously trespassed from a business in American Fork.

But even with all of that, he said the man's actions do not necessarily give rise to a criminal case. The case with the teens doesn't classify as groping, he said, and it also doesn't classify as harassment under the law.

“There are sometimes things in the law that don’t allow us to take a case to a criminal level even though we feel like we’d like to,” Sgt. Cannon explained.

That said, he said they submitted a charge to the prosecutor for disorderly conduct against the man. It's now up to the prosecutor to review it and make a decision whether to formally charge him in the incident.

"Violating children's space or harassing people more than once, and being reported constantly and having no repercussions... there's something going on there," said Megan Strader, a mom of one of the four teens.

Espinoza credits the mother at the store, Elizabeth Brown, for stepping in when this happened. She said they will not stay silent or quit fighting for their kids.

She stressed the importance of "see something, say something," and strength in numbers for people to keep a lookout in the community-- so this doesn't happen to any other children.