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Man charged with assault on real estate agent

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By Julian Eure
Managing Editor

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Elizabeth City police have arrested a man and charged him with kidnapping and assaulting a real estate agent who was showing him a property on Riverside Avenue.

Nathaniel Jonathan Cox, 20, of the 800 block of Burgoyne Court, Fayetteville, is charged with second-degree kidnapping and assault on a female, a press release from city police states. Cox is registered as a student at Elizabeth City State University.

Police said they received a call Wednesday about 5:08 p.m. that a woman had been assaulted while showing a man a rental property at 906 Riverside Avenue. According to the press release, the woman said the man inappropriately touched her and grabbed her arm on multiple occasions. The woman was not injured in the attack and the man left the scene before police arrived.

According to emergency radio reports immediately following the incident, police were searching for a man named “Nate” driving an SUV who apparently had described himself to the assault victim as a “male porn star looking to rent an Airbnb.” 

Police said Cox was identified Thursday as the suspect in the alleged assault and arrested.

Capt. Larry James, a spokesman for the Elizabeth City Police Department, declined to answer any questions about the incident, including whether Cox had been arrested in Elizabeth City, is a student at Elizabeth City State University, or had described himself to the victim as a male porn star. He also declined to answer a question about the real estate agency the victim works for or say if the police department offers any safety tips specific to real estate professionals. 

Robert Kelly-Goss, a spokesman for ECSU, confirmed Friday that Cox is a student at ECSU. 

Coleen Curtis, executive officer of the Albemarle Area Association of Realtors, said she had not spoken directly with the agent — an association member — who was attacked, but said the association’s president has.

According to Curtis, the agent said she met the man accused of attacking her at her office. The man claimed he was working with a group looking to invest $25 million in investment properties in the area. The agent decided to show the man a property on Riverside Avenue and had him follow her there, and it was once they were in the house that the man told the agent he was a male porn star, she said.

Not only did the man grab the agent numerous times, he also tried to block her from leaving the house, Curtis said. Curtis was not sure how the agent managed to get away from the man.

“She’s very upset and shook up by this, but thank God she was not physically harmed,” Curtis said.

According to Curtis, last week’s attack on a real estate agent in the performance of her job was the first time something like it has happened in the area. The incident has made safety a front-and-center issue for the association and its 346 Realtor members, she said.

The association already offers ongoing safety-related information and programs, particularly in September, which is designated by the National Association of Realtors as “Realtor Safety Month.” However, taking the approach that “every month is Realtor Safety Month,” Curtis said the local association “isn’t going to wait until September” to make safety a priority. The group plans to talk about Realtor safety during its upcoming membership meeting in April. The group also plans to make available to its members a self-defense course at the beginning of April, she said.

One of the association’s more recent initiatives is the introduction of a safety app for smartphones called Forewarn that allows real estate agents to vet potential buyers ahead of a meeting. According to an October 2017 article in The New York Post, Forewarn is a phone app that allows the user to enter a prospective client’s phone number into their smartphone and get an instant background check that resembles a police report.

According to Curtis, using the app can pull up all types of public records on a prospective client, including former addresses, phone numbers, criminal records, court records and property records. The Post article also mentions the app can be used to verify a client’s car ownership and home ownership history, whether they have any mortgage liens and if they’ve ever filed for bankruptcy.

The Forewarn app, which was launched by data-analytics firm Cogint in 2017, is only available to licensed real estate agents. According to The Post, the app in fact is targeted at real estate agents, 38 percent of whom told the National Association of Realtors in a survey that because of the nature of their work — many have to meet with clients they don’t know at properties in secluded neighborhoods — they had “experienced a situation that made them fear for their safety or safety of their personal information.”

Forewarn also estimated, according to The Post, that real estate agents are now scheduling 40 to 50 percent of their property showings with people not screened by another real estate agent.   

Curtis said the local Realtors association, which pays Forewarn’s monthly subscription fee, began offering the app to its members late last year and currently is in the process of “making sure all members take advantage of it.” As far as she knows, the agent attacked last week did not use the app ahead of her meeting with the man who’s accused of attacking her.  

The fact no local Realtor had ever been attacked while showing a property initially raised questions about whether the association’s board of directors should invest in subscribing to the app, Curtis said.

“The question was asked: Do we really need to pay for this?” Curtis said. The board ultimately decided it should, she said, taking the position, “If it saves one person it’s worth it.”

Curtis said she’s aware of at least one instance where the Forewarn app helped a real estate professional take safety precautions prior to a meeting with a client. She said a property manager had a scheduled meeting with a tenant but before going, pulled up the tenant’s background on the Forewarn app. After learning the tenant had a prior arrest for assault, the property manager took another real estate professional with them to the meeting.

“That’s what the app is designed to do,” she said. “Whenever something comes up that raises a red flag, it helps the member make good choices.”

Curtis agreed last week’s attack may increase use of the Forewarn app. During a recent check prior to the incident, only about 32 percent of the association’s members had downloaded the app, she said. Since the attack, the association has gotten a number of phone calls from members asking for the app’s link, she said.

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