By Jeremiah Dobruck
6:05 PM PDT, July 29, 2014
Costa Mesa police are looking for possible victims of a man they say may have tried to grope women and children in a park in the city's Eastside neighborhood.
On Monday, officers arrested Mark Marroquin, a 24-year-old homeless man, on suspicion of a probation violation, but investigators believe he may be connected to a rash of harassment incidents in Heller Park.
Last week, police started receiving reports of a homeless man who was bothering women at the small park on 16th Street near the Newport Beach border.
They said the man would approach groups of mothers or nannies with children, start inappropriate conversations and try to put his hand on their backs.
In at least one case, the man touched a woman inappropriately, Sgt. Ed Everett said. When officers responded, the accuser was gone and
officers could only ask Marroquin to leave the park, Everett said.
The next day, police got a call from a woman saying the offender was back in the park, bothering children, according to a news release.
"We've had numerous problems with him before," Everett said.
Court records show that Marroquin has racked up a number of misdemeanor convictions in the past few years, with charges including unlawful camping in a public area, resisting a peace officer and possession of a controlled substance.
Earlier this month, Marroquin pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of lewd conduct in a public place.
Costa Mesa police said those allegations stemmed from an arrest in May after a 14-year-old girl said Marroquin approached her and a friend while they were walking near Wallace Avenue and Shalimar Drive.
"The girls reported to officers that Marroquin was riding a bike continually past them, verbally harassing them," police said in the news release. "At one point Marroquin allegedly reached out and grabbed the buttocks of one girl."
Marroquin's guilty plea landed him three years of probation, the terms of which include staying at least 100 yards from the Shalimar Drive area. That condition led to Marroquin's arrest this week.
After the groping allegations, plainclothes police started following Marroquin on Monday, when another officer spotted him at a 7-Eleven near 17th Street and Orange Avenue — not far from the area where he was banned.
When Marroquin walked along Pomona Avenue within 100 yards of Shalimar Drive, officers arrested him on suspicion of violating his probation, police said.
Investigators say they are looking into adding charges based on the harassment allegations but need to speak with accusers.
"Whoever he grabbed in the park, we'll be hoping that she'll come forward," Everett said.
Contact investigators at (714) 754-5205, Det. Bang Le at (714) 754-5361 or Everett at (714) 754-5395.
Police have described Marroquin as Latino and about 5-feet-7 and 140 pounds, with brown eyes and medium-length brown hair.
He is often unshaven and sometimes carries a backpack that may have a sleeping bag attached, police said.