SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A man who is accused of kidnapping a woman and holding her in a cinder block cell that she escaped by punching her way out had been on law enforcement’s radar and is now suspected in other sexual assaults.
The woman was kidnapped from Seattle, chained, and driven to a home in Klamath Falls, Oregon, according to the FBI. Negasi Zuberi, 29, is now behind bars in Nevada, waiting to be extradited to Oregon, where he is charged in federal court with interstate kidnapping and transporting an individual across state lines with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
A search of Zuberi’s rental home and garage turned up the woman’s purse and handwritten notes, according to investigators. One was labeled “Operation Take Over” and included entries that read, “Leave phone at home” and “Make sure they don’t have a bunch of ppl (sic) in their life. You don’t want any type of investigation.”
Another handwritten document appeared to include a rough sketch for an underground structure using concrete blocks, foam insulation and waterproof concrete.
The FBI said Zuberi may have used other methods of gaining control of women, including drugging their drinks. The agency suspects him in sexual assaults in at least four more states that it did not name and said it set up a website asking anyone who believes they may have been a victim to come forward.
Before moving to Klamath Falls, a city of some 22,000 people, a few months ago, Zuberi lived in Vancouver, Washington, where court records show the landlord sought to evict him.
Landlord Abishek Kandar said in a text message that Zuberi didn’t pay rent for six months, illegally sublet the home, bred puppies, damaged the property and threatened neighbors.
“He is a horrible person,” Kandar said. “He deserves to be in jail.”
Zuberi lived in numerous states. According to court records, a man with one of Zuberi’s alleged aliases, Justin Kouassi, was accused of punching a person in the face in Denver last year. An arrest warrant was issued for Kouassi’, court records show, but Denver police do not have any record of Zuberi or anyone with one of his aliases being arrested.
Suspect may have been in Denver last year
In the Seattle kidnapping, Zuberi posed as an undercover police officer when he kidnapped the woman, the FBI said Wednesday.
“This woman was kidnapped, chained, sexually assaulted, and locked in a cinderblock cell,” Stephanie Shark, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Portland field office, said in a news release. “Police say she beat the door with her hands until they were bloody in order to break free. Her quick thinking and will to survive may have saved other women from a similar nightmare.”
After the woman escaped, Zuberi fled but was arrested by state police in Reno, Nevada, the next afternoon, the FBI said.
Heather Fraley, a lawyer with the federal public defender’s office in Las Vegas who was listed as Zuberi’s attorney, declined to discuss the case when reached Wednesday, including whether she’s still representing him. Zuberi hasn’t yet been assigned a public defender in Oregon as he’s still being transferred from Nevada, which can take several weeks, said Kevin Sonoff, a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office in Oregon.
Zuberi could face up to life in prison if convicted of the federal charges in Oregon.
According to the FBI, Zuberi also went by the names Sakima, Justin Hyche and Justin Kouassi.
According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon, Zuberi solicited the woman to engage in prostitution on July 15 in an area of Seattle known for sex work. Afterward, Zuberi told the woman he was an undercover officer, showed her a badge, pointed a stun gun at her and placed her in handcuffs and leg irons before putting her in the back of his vehicle, the complaint says.
He then drove to his home, stopping along the way to sexually assault her, according to the complaint. When they arrived about seven hours after he first encountered her in Seattle, he put her in the makeshift cell built from cinder blocks with a door of metal bars and said he was leaving to do paperwork.
The woman “briefly slept and awoke to the realization that she would likely die if she did not attempt to escape,” the complaint says.
She managed to break some of the door’s welded joints, creating a small opening that she climbed through, Klamath Falls Police Capt. Rob Reynolds said at a news conference.
“She repeatedly punched the door with her own hands,” Reynolds said. “She had several lacerations along her knuckles.”
The victim got into Zuberi’s vehicle in the garage, grabbed his gun and fled, leaving blood on a wooden fence she climbed over to escape, the complaint says. She flagged down a passing driver, who called 911.
Two Nevada State Patrol officers tracked Zuberi down at a Walmart parking lot in Reno the next day, July 16, the complaint says. He was in his car holding one of his children in the front seat while talking to his wife, who was standing outside the vehicle. Zuberi eventually surrendered.
Johnson reported from Seattle. Associated Press writer Claire Rush in Portland, Oregon, and Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, contributed. Rush is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.