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Inmate who made assault allegations transferred

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer

An inmate who says she was sexually assaulted multiple times by a guard at the Garfield County Jail in June was transferred Friday for the third time in less than a month, this time from Pitkin County to Summit County.

Elsa E. Gonzalez of Glenwood Springs was moved to the Summit County Jail the same day The Aspen Times and The Glenwood Springs Post Independent printed an article on the alleged assaults. She has now been in four county jails in less than four months, all under the same sentence – driving on a suspended license while on probation.

Sgt. Erik Bourgerie of the Summit County Sheriff’s Department said the Pitkin County authorities contacted him Friday morning and asked if they would take Gonzalez off their hands.

“They said they needed her out of their facility because they didn’t want to compromise the investigation,” Bourgerie said. “It happens a lot with an allegation involving force, just to avoid any appearance of impropriety.”

He also said a transfer is often requested to ensure an inmate’s protection. “To make sure there’s no ill treatment toward the inmate, [we] don’t want to compromise her rights,” Bourgerie said.

Efforts to contact Gonzalez over the phone Sunday night were coordinated with the Summit County Jail. But according to Bourgerie, Gonzalez did not want to talk.

She originally contacted The Aspen Times last Thursday from the Pitkin County Jail and said that jail officials were ordering her to keep the alleged sexual assaults quiet.

Gonzalez asserts she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a guard at the Garfield County Jail over a period of two weeks at the end of June. On July 1, another inmate allegedly witnessed one of the assaults and reported it to officers at the jail. The next day, Gonzalez was moved to the Mesa County Jail. Two weeks later, she was moved to the Pitkin County Jail.

She claims that ever since the alleged assaults were reported, she has been mistreated and has had several of her rights revoked. Gonzalez said she’s prohibited to see her children, and is not allowed to go to the gym, to church, or attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Furthermore, she claimed the repeated transfers are part of an ongoing effort to keep her quiet.

“They’re moving me around because they don’t want me to talk,” Gonzalez said. “It was me that was the victim – not him, me – and I have to pay for it. I don’t think that’s right at all.

“Every time I’d be moved, I’d be told not to say anything,” Gonzalez said. “It’s the truth, and since it’s the truth, why should I have to hide it from anybody?”

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said that it’s normal procedure to ask a victim to refrain from speaking publicly about an alleged assault until an investigation has been completed. But, Vallario said, she has not been forced to keep quiet.

“It’s not like we’re telling her, ‘You better be quiet or else,'” Vallario said last week.

Pitkin County Jail supervisor Billy Tomb said that Gonzalez was not mistreated.

“Whatever she’s claiming is false, we’re treating her fairly,” he said.

“There has been no infringement on her rights,” Vallario added.

While no charges have been filed in the case, Vallario confirmed that a guard at the Garfield County Jail has been placed on administrative leave with pay.

The investigation into the allegations by the Glenwood Springs Police Department was recently completed and is expected to be in the hands of the district attorney soon. At that point, the district attorney’s office will decide if charges will be filed. An internal investigation is still pending.

District Attorney Mac Myers said he had a conflict of interest in the case and handed it over to the 14th Judicial District, which oversees Grand, Moffat and Routt counties. He would not comment on what the conflict of interest involved.

Four statutes were investigated: sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact, unlawful sexual conduct in a penal institution and first-degree official misconduct.

Gonzalez said the assaults began shortly after a female inmate started revealing her breasts to the guards. She said the guards would reward the inmates for such behavior, including extra time out of their cells.

Gonzalez said one guard would take her into the control room, which has a mirrored glass that prohibits prisoners from seeing inside, and molest her. She said other guards would assist by keeping a lookout. The guard would touch her breasts, kiss her and put his hand down her pants, Gonzalez said.

“I was terrified, I was depressed, and I was sleeping all the time,” she said.

Gonzalez is expected to be released from Summit County Jail on Aug. 11, at which time she plans to pursue the case.

Representatives at the Pitkin County Jail would not comment on why Gonzalez was transferred to the Summit County Jail. Vallario was not available for comment.

Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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