S’ville police investigate whether accused rapist had other victims

Thomas Michael Powell, 28, of Thomaston Avenue in Summerville faces three counts of kidnapping, two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and assault with intent to commit first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Police continue to investigate whether a man suspected in three brutal sexual assaults in Summerville and surrounding areas has attacked other women.

“Just because we made an arrest doesn’t mean the investigation is over,” Summerville police Capt. Jon Rogers said Wednesday.

His comment came a week after the arrest of Thomas Powell, 28, of Thomaston Avenue in Summerville, on charges that he kidnapped two women that he met online. Powell faces additional charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and assault with intent to commit the same crime in connection with those attacks.

Police said Powell held one woman at knifepoint in mid-January before she screamed and got away with a slashed hand. A short time later, the authorities said, he repeatedly raped another woman and left her with knife wounds.

A day after Powell’s arrest, a judge set bail at $5,000 on each of his charges, and he was released within hours.

A third victim surfaced in Berkeley County shortly after his arrest and Powell was jailed Tuesday on additional kidnapping and first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges.

A judge denied bail on those charges.

Two of Powell’s alleged victims were escorts he met through backpage.com, investigators have reported. The classified site has grown into a hotbed for prostitution because it allows sex traders to reach a wide audience while remaining anonymous.

Berkeley County Chief Deputy Mike Cochran described the site as “not a good place to be” and that “no good could come from the activities on there.”

He said he didn’t foresee any investigation specific to the site in light of the recent attacks.

National officials are, however, pursuing a probe. A Senate voted on Wednesday to hold Backpage in civil contempt for failing to comply with a congressional subpoena into how it screens ads for possible sex trafficking, according to The Associated Press.

The Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee backed a resolution setting up a legal fight with the company. Holding the company in contempt would allow the committee to go to court to try to force Bakpage to turn over documents about its screening practices, according to The AP.

Cochran said how the victims met Powell doesn’t matter.

“A no is a no,” he said of the alleged sexual assaults. “We’ll treat every case just like it was a family member (reporting).”

He encouraged other potential victims to come forward.

Powell’s first chance to dispute the evidence against him would come in the form of a preliminary hearing. A request for a preliminary hearing must be made within 10 days of a bond hearing or waive the right, state law mandates. A judge must hear arguments from both sides within 10 days of a request.

Court records didn’t indicate Wednesday whether Powell had formally requested a hearing. It also wasn’t clear whether he had an attorney. Any attempt at getting out of jail on bail would have to be argued before a circuit judge on a later date.

Dave Munday contributed to this report.