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Federal marshal turns tables on man accused of attacking her on jogging trail

| Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, 12:34 p.m.
Robert Flynn
Robert Flynn

A female federal agent aggressively turned on a man who groped her while she jogged Tuesday on a North Shore trail, using self-defense tactics to stop an attacker who outweighed and towered over her.

Pittsburgh police charged Robert Flynn, 19, of Spring Garden with indecent assault, aggravated assault, escape and false identification to law enforcement. Police suspect him in a second incident on Tuesday morning, although he was not charged, public stafety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said.

Flynn was jailed on $500,000 bail, records show. His relatives could not be reached for comment.

The deputy U.S. marshal told police she was jogging along the Allegheny River trail near the 16th Street Bridge shortly after 5 p.m. when she passed by the man. He ran up behind her, grabbed her buttocks and pulled down her running shorts, she said in a criminal complaint.

Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Jon Gallagher declined to comment on the investigation. The Tribune-Review does not identify victims of sexual assaults.

The woman, identifying herself as a federal marshal, chased the man, yelling for him to stop and telling pedestrians to call 911. Police said she is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 150 pounds but cornered the 6-foot, 4-inch, 210-pound Flynn.

“In a sense, it was the wrong person (to attack), but in another sense, it was the right person,” Toler said. “She brought a swift end to this activity.”

When Flynn tried to charge her, she kicked him in the groin, grabbed his shoulder and punched him in the face, the complaint said. After that, he “became somewhat compliant.”

Police said Flynn first gave them a false name and refused to be interviewed. Online state court records do not show previous charges against him.

The marshal went to UPMC Mercy for an injury to a finger. Flynn was uninjured, police said.

Kathryn Kluk, who teaches self-defense to men and women at Wright's Gym in Crafton, was impressed with how the deputy handled the situation.

“It affirms what we train down in the gym, to be prepared mentally and physically,” Kluk said.

Kluk tells women to be aware of their surroundings and use their voices as weapons, and shows them how to respond physically to attacks.

“We always go for the groin strike,” Kluk said. “We teach that over and over again.”

In the other incident, about 8 a.m., a woman told police she was on Isabella Street near Washington's Landing when a man in his late teens lifted her skirt. He ran toward the river, Toler said.

“We believe this is the same guy,” Toler said.

In May 2009, police arrested a homeless man and accused him of attacking a female jogger along the river trail near the 16th Street Bridge. At the time, police said Ronald Sowers, 42, “clotheslined” the woman with his arm and tried to drag her into an area overgrown with weeds. Court records show a judge found Sowers guilty of assault and unlawful restraint and sentenced him to two to four years in prison.

Toler said she hasn't heard of many assaults along the trails, but she urged caution.

“As a woman, it's not necessarily safe to be alone in an area that's heavily wooded or secluded,” Toler said. “If you can run with a partner, that's ideal.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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