BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — A Salem State University student from Chelmsford has been charged with fondling a fellow student on campus earlier this week, and school officials are looking into whether he’s done it to others there, as well.
Nicholas Otto, 23, pleaded not guilty during his arraignment yesterday in Salem District Court to a charge of indecent assault and battery.
Otto, whose lawyer said he suffers from a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome, approached a sophomore student from behind in the school cafeteria Monday and then proceeded to stroke her hair, remove her glasses and then touch her breast, prosecutor Geoff Wood told a judge.
The startled student, who had no idea who Otto was, jumped up, and Otto left.
Campus police put out an email alert to everyone at the school and were contacted by another student who said she had seen someone fitting the description doing the same thing to another student. That person, police say, was Otto.
Police showed an array of photos to the victim in the Monday incident, and she chose the photo of Otto, Wood told the judge.
Otto, when questioned by police following his arrest Wednesday, acknowledged touching the student’s hair and shoulder but denied touching her breast.
Wood asked Judge Robert Brennan to impose $5,000 bail.
Otto’s lawyer, William Barabino, said his client is a mapping student who is hoping to complete his bachelor’s degree at the school.
That may be difficult, however, since Otto, who commutes from his family’s home in Chelmsford, was ordered after his arrest to stay away from the campus while the case is pending.
Barabino also suggested that his client’s Asperger’s may have led to a misapprehension of the situation.
Brennan agreed to release Otto on personal recognizance but with the condition that he stay away from the alleged victim, the witness who identified him to police and the campus, unless granted permission by the school to be there.
A status hearing is scheduled for May 28.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.