A convicted rapist was accused of sex assault at an East Windsor nursing home. Police had no idea he was there.

The Fresh River Healthcare nursing home in East Windsor. Miguel Lopez, suspected of a sex assault at the facility, was a registered sex offender in Massachusetts who had a warrant out for his arrest.

The Fresh River Healthcare nursing home in East Windsor. Miguel Lopez, suspected of a sex assault at the facility, was a registered sex offender in Massachusetts who had a warrant out for his arrest.

Yehyun Kim / CTMirror.org

When state police arrived at Fresh River Healthcare nursing home in East Windsor on May 19 to fingerprint a registered sex offender, they had no idea that another sex offender was also living there.

But later that day, Miguel Lopez, a convicted rapist and a registered sex offender in Massachusetts with a warrant out for his arrest, allegedly locked a female employee in his room and forced her to perform oral sex.

The 50-year-old Lopez wasn’t known to police because of a loophole in Connecticut’s sex offender laws, which do not require nursing home operators to inform state police when they admit a registered sex offender from another state into one of their facilities. Lopez is at least the third registered sex offender from Massachusetts transferred to facilities run by iCare Health Network in Connecticut since December, although he is the only one the network didn’t report to police, apparently a deviation from their usual procedure.

Why Lopez was sent to the nursing home in the first place is unclear. Sources said he was in the Holyoke Medical Center in Massachusetts for several weeks before he was transferred to Fresh River, on Prospect Hill Road in East Windsor, on April 20.

After the alleged assault, the employee managed to escape, and other staff took her to the police station to file a complaint. Meanwhile, Lopez was sent by ambulance back to the Holyoke Medical Center — before police arrived at Fresh River to investigate, they said.

State Sen. Saud Anwar, who represents East Windsor, called the incident “horrific” and said he was surprised there was such a loophole in the state law. Anwar said Friday he planned to ask Gov. Ned Lamont to close the loophole, either through a policy change at the Department of Public Health or with an executive order.

“Something needs to be done and quickly, because that’s obviously a loophole, and we don’t know how widespread this is,” Anwar said.

Late Friday, Anwar sent a letter to iCare President and CEO Chris S. Wright, asking why Lopez ended up at the East Windsor facility.

Anwar asked Wright how many known sex offenders have been transferred from outside Connecticut to nursing homes here and why iCare didn’t inform law enforcement officials he was there.

“I look forward to reviewing your answers and hope that your company will partner with our community and with the State of Connecticut to ensure this tragic incident is never repeated,” Anwar wrote.

Local police also raised concerns.

East Windsor Police Lt. Matt Carl said detectives are still investigating the incident but were surprised to find a 50-year-old registered sex offender living at the nursing home.

“We have a lot of questions about how he ended up in that facility, and we never knew about him,” Carl said, adding they haven’t been able to talk to Lopez.

A spokesman for iCare said that they were aware Lopez was a registered sex offender before admitting him but that the law does not require them to inform the state police if an out-of-state sex offender is admitted to one of its facilities.

“It is the legal obligation of the resident themselves or their legal guardian to update the sex offender registry as to their current location,” iCare spokesman David Skoczulek said.

“While there is no legal obligation for a nursing home to inform the registry, we do take steps to assist the resident or their guardian in doing so and prompt them to do so in a timely fashion,” Skoczulek said, adding the Lopez case was “quite rare.”

Skoczulek declined to address the specifics of Lopez’s case, citing HIPAA laws and the ongoing police investigation.

Under state statutes, iCare also was required to report the alleged sexual assault to the state Department of Public Health because of its potential impact on residents’ safety. A DPH spokesman said this week that a report was filed and its Facilities and Licensing unit is investigating.

But the incident raises other questions about whether officials from Massachusetts — either the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board or the state police — should have notified state police here; how a sex offender with an outstanding arrest warrant issued in Massachusetts months before the transfer was allowed to be placed out of state; and why Massachusetts sex offenders are being sent to Connecticut in the first place.

Massachusetts officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Steps not taken

Coincidentally, on the same day of the alleged assault, state police detectives were at the Fresh River nursing home to register a different sex offender from Virginia.

State Police Sgt. Matthew Garcia, who oversees the sex offender unit, said that while Connecticut’s sex offender laws do not require nursing home providers to report out-of-state sex offenders to the state police, there is an informal process that is usually followed. iCare, he said, has routinely notified the police if a sex offender was being admitted to a nursing home, ensured the proper documents were available and followed up to make an appointment for detectives register that person.

That’s what happened when Wayne Chapman, a convicted child molester, was transferred from Massachusetts to 60 West, an iCare facility in Rocky Hill, in December. Chapman is 74 and confined to a wheelchair now. State police detectives went to 60 West to register Chapman and get his DNA, one of the requirements of the sex offender laws.

“It does not appear that this was the course of action for Lopez, as the Registry had not been provided any specifics about a second offender [at Fresh River] in need of registration,” Garcia said in response to questions from The Connecticut Mirror about Lopez’s case.

“In reviewing the Lopez case, it does not appear that these steps were taken,” Garcia said, adding that Lopez was never registered as a sex offender in Connecticut despite being at Fresh River for about a month.

Garcia said detectives are now going to review all potential sex offenders now living in Connecticut nursing homes to see if others have been missed.

State records show there are nine sex offenders living at 60 West. Rocky Hill residents recently went to the town council seeking to have an ordinance passed barring iCare from bringing more sex offenders there, but the town attorney said the town had no legal standing to bar them from a private facility.

“Fresh River does have specialized care plans and policies for the care and management of stigmatized and special populations,” Skoczulek said. “Every resident admitted to an iCare center is extensively evaluated prior to admission for the clinical and psycho-social needs, often by an on-site evaluation and interview by a trained RN … With their consent or the consent of the guardian, the resident is then placed at the nursing center and on the nursing unit best suited for their care needs and safety. This could be a secure, locked memory care or behavioral health unit or otherwise.”

Arrest warrant issued

Lopez was transferred to the East Windsor nursing home on April 20 — a move made more notable by the fact that there was an outstanding arrest warrant out for Lopez at the time in Holyoke.

The Massachusetts sex offender registry identifies Lopez as homeless, with a current address of a street corner on Maple Street in Holyoke, not far from the hospital. He is 5-foot-10, about 200 pounds.

As a sex offender, Lopez is required to report to authorities monthly. But he failed to contact Holyoke police in December, police said. A Holyoke police officer tried to call him at the number listed on his record, but the phone was disconnected, according to court records.

In January, Holyoke police got an arrest warrant charging Lopez with failure to properly report as a sex offender, a felony that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence. But the warrant wasn’t served until May 26, a week after the sexual assault in East Windsor, after Lopez had been returned to the Holyoke Medical Center.

Sources said that Holyoke police were aware that Lopez was at Fresh River because staff at that facility sent them a letter notifying them he was there just days after he arrived in East Windsor.

It is unclear why a letter was sent to a Massachusetts police department while Connecticut police were not informed about Lopez’s whereabouts. While Skoczulek wouldn’t discuss specifics of Lopez’s case, he did say that iCare officials were unaware Lopez had an outstanding arrest warrant when he was transferred.

‘Inevitable that someone would get hurt’

Cynthia Crockett, an attorney who is representing the victim in the May 19 assault, said she is still trying to determine how Lopez ended up in Fresh River.

“How did a relatively young convicted sex offender from Massachusetts, with a pending criminal case in Massachusetts, end up in a Connecticut nursing home with the most vulnerable population?” Crockett said. “Who thought it was appropriate to place said individual with staff that wasn’t trained or equipped to deal with such individuals? It was inevitable that someone would get hurt.”

Crockett said she had been trying to determine where Lopez is now, as her client fears he will return. On Friday, a Massachusetts prosecutor told her that Lopez is now in the custody of the Department of Corrections there.

Crockett is questioning why Lopez wasn’t placed at 60 West, considered a more secure building with staff that is used to dealing with the multiple sex offenders already residing there besides Chapman.

Lopez was convicted of rape by a jury in December of 2012. At the trial, the victim testified that Lopez was a friend of her then-boyfriend and lived in the same apartment building. One morning Lopez called her and asked her to bring her boyfriend’s dog to his apartment.

When she arrived and handed Lopez the dog leash, he grabbed her, pulled her into the bedroom and raped her, according to court records.

Lopez was sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison, and because he was convicted of sexual assault, he was required to register as a sex offender upon his release. Lopez was released from prison in October 2019, according to Massachusetts Department of Correction records.

Massachusetts officials declined to release Lopez’s reporting history, other than to say that he is currently listed as being in Holyoke and is still homeless.

The CT Mirror submitted a list of questions to the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board, including whether anyone there knew Lopez had been sent to East Windsor or if they had approved the transfer. None of the questions has been answered.

‘Bad outcomes’

The state’s Long Term Care Ombudsman Mairead Painter said the issue of sex offenders in nursing homes is not new and that “they have had bad outcomes before.”

“We don’t want to see people discriminated against, especially if they’ve served their time, but they have to have the staff and the expertise to care for them,” Painter said. “It doesn’t seem like they had a plan to provide for the care needs of that individual while protecting the staff and residents of the home.”

She said iCare in particular refers to some of its units as “behavioral units,” but no nursing home is licensed to be a behavioral unit.

“We do not have licensed psych beds in our nursing homes,” Painter said. “So they’re creating these units, but the people have to have a medical need, they have to be at a nursing home level of care, and they can’t just be institutionalized.”

Lopez was scheduled to appear in Holyoke Superior Court on Friday, but the case was postponed until June 29. He was held on $1,000 cash bail at his initial arraignment on May 27.