25 women file sex crimes report on same man for four years before Metro Nashville Police made arrest
“My assault didn’t have to happen. The assault of all the women after me, didn’t have to happen.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - On Dec. 20, 2018, “Jill” went for a massage.
Hours later, the Brentwood woman would be in Metro’s Sexual Assault Center having her breasts and feet swabbed for DNA.
“They could take samples from my breast and my feet. Do something with the saliva,” Jill said, her hair brushing over the top of her glasses.
It’s been nearly six years since she filed the police report claiming her masseuse put his mouth on her breasts and feet, placed her hand on his penis and masturbated under the table.
It hasn’t gotten any easier talking about.
“Super scary,” she says quietly in describing the incident.
At first, she wasn’t sure if she even wanted to report it, blaming herself for not kicking the man or doing something to stop him.
“I was just in a state of shock that I couldn’t say anything,” Jill said. “I’m just a woman, I didn’t have a weapon.”
But when she told her father when she arrived home, he insisted she report it.
Not only did she go to police, she did not shower, hoping to preserve DNA, going to a nurse to have her body swabbed.
“They could take samples from my breast and my feet. Do something with the saliva,” Jill said.
When asked if she thought he would be immediately arrested, she nodded.
“I did, actually.”
Three months later, Jill said that she heard from a female detective with the Metro Nashville Police Department who said she would get back to her.
But no calls came. No emails.
“I tried emailing her, I tried calling her. Never ever got anything back,” Jill said. “I thought someone might get back to me, but no one did.”
What Jill didn’t know is for years after she filed her report, her masseuse, Tarek Mentouri, would allegedly go on to repeatedly violate women during massages and job interviews, all who would identify him and report where he worked to police.
A WSMV4 Investigation found 25 women filed police reports before he was arrested.
“It makes me really angry and sick to know that he could get away with it. To keep doing that to other women. I wish I could have protected them in some way,” Jill said. “I’m disgusted, I’m upset that they didn’t do their jobs to try to protect the women of Nashville.”
“A vicious animal”
What Jill also didn’t know - she wasn’t Mentouri’s first victim.
It’s unclear who filed the report, but in 2017, women began filing complaints with the Tennessee Department of Health about Mentouri.
Metro police records obtained by WSMV4 Investigates show the first report to be filed came from Kelly Cochrane, also a Brentwood resident, on Feb. 6, 2018.
“He had his hands on his crotch,” Cochrane said. “Touched one of my breasts on the side, and I kind of flinched.”
Cochrane said after Mentouri touched her other breast, she could feel the table shaking.
She said she has no doubt he was masturbating.
“I just left and said, ‘This isn’t OK,’” Cochrane said.
After reporting the incident, Cochrane said she, too, talked to a female detective by the name of Kimberlin Rothwell.
In the beginning, Cochrane said Rothwell was engaged, working with her to text with Mentouri to perhaps generate an admission.
But Mentouri denied everything.
After that, Cochrane heard nothing from Metro police.
The next year, on March 19, 2019, Clarksville resident Julia Stone would become the next woman to file a police report, offering up her clothes as evidence for potential DNA.
“He is deeply, deeply disturbed,” Stone said. “The impression that I got (from Clarksville police) was that everything was being handled by the Nashville police department.”
In the police report with Clarksville police on March 25, 2019, an investigator wrote, “I was alerted by Investigator K Rothwell of the Metro-Nashville Police Department’s special victim’s unit that suspect, MENTOURI, was listen on several reports in their jurisdiction regarding similar complaints by female clients.”
According to police reports, in 2019, three additional women would then file police reports about Mentouri, including Ashley Watkins.
Watkins, like Stone, said Mentouri masturbated and licked her feet, and she offered up her clothes to police to see if DNA might exist.
“I kept my socks as DNA evidence. I put them in a brown paper bag. Let me know. I’ve got clothing with his saliva on it, and I can give it you right now,” Watkins said.
Like Cochrane, Watkins said Detective Rothwell was, at first, deeply involved, but then stopped responding.
“I don’t think it was her personal fault. I think it was some kind of systemic issue,” Watkins said. “There’s a problem and it’s very evident.”
On July 23, 2020, WSMV4 began airing stories about Mentouri and his reported crimes, questioning why his license hadn’t been suspended by the state and why he hadn’t been arrested.
The next month, the Tennessee Department of Health suspended Mentouri’s license , and on Aug. 20, 2020, WSMV4’s undercover reporting found Mentouri to still be booking clients despite the suspension of his license.
Mentouri remained free, and there is no indication in police reports that he was brought in for questioning.
After our stories began airing, police reports show seven additional women would file police reports.
Police records show on March 2, 2020, three different women filed three police reports on Mentouri with different precincts.
Jennifer is one of those three women, and learned from our reporting that by the time she became a victim, 10 women had already filed a police report.
“My assault didn’t have to happen. The assault of all the women after me, didn’t have to happen,” Jennifer said.
By the end of that year, 20 women would file police reports.
And Mentouri remained free.
The next year, on March 13, 2021, Mentouri was arrested in a Metro police sting in which he was charged with a misdemeanor offense of impersonating a licensed professional.
Mentouri then bonded out, and on April 30, 2021, prosecutors said Mentouri assaulted a new victim, masturbating when a woman came for a job interview.
On May 21, 2021, Mentouri would be arrested again, this time on sex crimes charges, including rape and kidnapping.
The arrest would come three and a half years after Cochrane filed her first police report.
“If he’d been stopped initially, then he couldn’t have escalated,” she said.
“They weren’t doing their job”
Peter Massey, a 20-year police veteran who has taught crime scene technology at universities in Florida, examined the findings by WSMV4 Investigates.
“When you review how this case was investigated, what’s the word that comes to mind?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.
“Lazy. Dropped the ball. Incompetent,” Massey said.
Emails, obtained by WSMV4 Investigates through an open records request, show the Davidson County District Attorney’s office was becoming frustrated too.
In April 2021, assistant district attorney Chadwick Jackson began emailing with others in his office and Rothwell, as well as detective Matt Dixon with metro’s sex crimes unit.
Jackson repeatedly asked for case files, as the statute of limitations was approaching.
“I can email Dixon and be the bad guy,” Jackson wrote to his colleagues. “My problem is that Rothwell told a victim, on or about August 26, 2020, that the case files would be coming over to our office in a couple of weeks, and here we are 6 months later…”
In an email to Dixon, a supervisor in the unit, Jackson wrote that Rothwell is, “putting (cases) together with the same urgency with which she conducted these investigations.”
Rothwell, on April 13, 2021, wrote, “Several of the case files listed in the email from last week are not even assigned to me. The rest, I will prepare as my cases this week allow, I am currently on call and work night shift, by myself, in a very busy Nashville.”
Jackson forwarded that email to her colleagues, writing, “FYI…the case files will be coming ‘as her cases allow.’”
“They were pissed,” Massey said after reading the emails. “They were very upset, and rightfully so. (Police) weren’t doing their job.”
“I would say it absolutely took too long”
For weeks, WSMV4 Investigates shared our findings with Metro Nashville Police Department while requesting an interview with Rothwell and Dixon.
While a spokesman for the department said Rothwell was not available for an interview, they offered Inspector Rita Baker, who started supervising the Sex Crimes Unit after the Mentouri investigation.
Baker reviewed the police reports and a timeline created by Metro police in response to our questions, but did not have details on each specific case.
“Do you think the ball was dropped by the police department?” asked WSMV4 Investigates.
“It was a difficult ball to carry in general,” Baker said.
Baker had no idea how many women had filed reports before Mentouri was arrested.
“Twenty five is a lot,” WSMV4 Investigates pointed out.
“It is a lot. I can’t disagree,” Baker said.
“Twenty five women who endured this over and over again, after women reported,” WSMV4 Investigates said.
“And that’s 25 too many,” Baker said.
“I wonder if you think it simply too took long,” WSMV4 Investigates asked.
“I would say absolutely it took too long,” Baker said. “There’s no excuse, there’s never an excuse, but there are reasons why it may have delayed.”
Chief among those reasons, according to Metro police, a disaster prone 2020, in which the city experienced a tornado, the Covid-19 pandemic and civil unrest.
As Mentouri escalated his crimes, Metro Nashville Police had to divert detectives from their regular assignments.
“Add the tornado, add Covid, and just difficult times in general, it was difficult. now, is it OK to have excuses? Never,” Baker said.
According to email responses from Metro Nashville Police to WSMV4 Investigates, a metro spokesman wrote that Rothwell had too many cases at the time, and was put on the midnight shift which hampered communication with victims.
Police also point out that they presented 12 cases in a report to the district attorneys office in October 2020.
According to Metro Nashville Police, prosecutors wanted to get Mentouri on a felony charge and to catch him in a sting.
Even though Mentouri’s license had already been suspended, a police spokeswoman said they were advised that Mentouri’s attorney had appealed, and they needed to wait until the appeal was over to conduct the sting.
The Metro Nashville Police spokeswoman said once the appeal had ended, sex crimes conducted the sting.
WSMV4 Investigates repeatedly asked for an interview with the district attorneys office and were told that both prosecutors who handled the case, Jackson and Sarah Butler, had left the department after Mentouri was convicted.
Neither Jackson nor Butler would comment for this story.
But multiple sources with the district attorney’s office dispute that police gave details of the 12 cases in October 2020.
Those sources also said that police had officially closed many of the cases they were aware of that time because “of a lack of cooperation of victims.”
According to the police reports, three of the victims did not want to prosecute, and others just wanted their incidents documented, not investigated.
A district attorney source also stated that by the time Metro Nashville Police approached them in 2020, prosecutors had no idea that women had been filing reports for so many years prior.
The district attorney sources, as well as Metro police’s communication team, said that the end result was that Mentouri is now in prison and will be on the sex offender registry when he leaves jail.
Baker also said that six additional sex crimes detectives have been added to the unit since Mentouri was investigated.
But that is little consolation for several of the women who filed the first police reports.
Because so much time passed from when they came forward, the statute of limitations ran out and their cases were never even considered for prosecution.
“The ramifications of how poorly it was handled are substantial,” Jennifer said.
WSMV4 Investigates asked Baker she would say to those women.
“There’s nothing you can say. There’s nothing you can say to make that better. We care for victims, we have made changes in the division to make it better over the last year. But there’s nothing you can go back and say to those women. That’s not OK.”
If you have a story that you’d like us to investigate, you can tell us here.
Copyright 2023 WSMV. All rights reserved.