by David M. Reutter
Sexual relationships involving guards and prisoners in Arizona jails have resulted in criminal charges on both sides of the bars.
An investigation at the Yuma County Jail snared three guards and four female prisoners. The guards, Justin Herrera, 26, Kenneth Smith, 34, and Jose Espinoza, 26, were charged on June 12, 2007 with unlawful sexual conduct. Herrera faces two counts while Smith faces three counts and a sexual assault charge.
Espinoza was initially charged with six counts of unlawful sexual conduct. After all three former guards were released on $25,264 bonds, Espinoza was rearrested and booked for sexual assault and kidnapping, too.
Those charges revolve around an incident where Espinoza allegedly coerced a female prisoner by lying about a visitor at the jail. Once he led her into a room without camera surveillance, he forced her to have sex. Espinoza's lawyer argued that while the prisoner opposed the sex, she didn't physically resist the guard's advances.
Three of the victims remain unnamed. The fourth, however, was identified because authorities claim she was not a victim but actively sought sexual relations with guards. Shannon Rose, 32, was serving a 315-day sentence at the Yuma County Jail. She told investigators that she passed sexually explicit notes to guards, which led to having conversations with them.
Rose admitted to at least 12 sexual acts with guards at the jail. One time she performed oral sex on Herrera in a closet while another prisoner stood watch. She also committed other sex acts in front of guards, according to court records. Rose made an initial appearance for seven felony counts related to sexual misconduct on July 3, 2007.
The new charges will require Rose to post bond on each count; she was due to be released in 20 days when the new charges were filed. Each felony offense carries a bond of $72,069.
As to why the court granted much lower bonds to the guards accused of sexual misconduct than to one of the prisoners they had sex with, Judge David Cooper said, "This is a class of people you and I so rarely see in this courtroom." He added that while the allegations against the guards were serious, seeing defendants without lengthy criminal records was a "breath of fresh air."
Such disparate treatment tends to legitimize the usual position of jail officials that prisoners are the more culpable party. "We have nothing to indicate at this time it was anything but consensual. We don't at this point consider [the women] victims," said Yuma County Sheriff Captain Eben Bratcher. He added the prisoners could have been manipulating the guards for drugs or privileges.
Dan Pochoda, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said prosecuting the women prisoners was troublesome. "It's obviously criminalizing the victim, further victimizing the powerless in this equation. It's impossible to imagine any situation that would justify the criminal prosecution of women in these cases," he said. "It could not be consensual sex. Given the dynamic between guards and prisoners, it is not an informed consensual decision."
On July 31, 2007, Yuma County's jail administrator, Michael McGregor, was fired as a result of the sexual misconduct investigation at the facility.
In Pima County, Arizona, a female guard was forced to resign her position after having an inappropriate relationship with a male prisoner. Both were unnamed in court documents, which were on file in order to obtain a search warrant for the guard's home and vehicle.
That search revealed the guard "was by her own admission making out with this inmate and inappropriately touching though clothing the genitalia area," said Lt. Mike O'Connor. Records also indicated the prisoner called the guard on her cell phone.
Because the prisoner is an illegal immigrant from Mexico, he faces deportation. The guard reportedly told the prisoner she would contact a friend who works for the state and attempt to get him fake documents, such as an identification card. The guard, who worked at Pima's Mission Facility for three years, may face felony charges.
Even if that's the case, such prosecutions rarely result in prison time for guards. Indeed, it's entirely possible that Shannon Rose will receive harsher punishment for her consensual sexual conduct than the Yuma jail guards who took advantage of vulnerable female prisoners under their control.
Sources: Yuma Sun, Associated Press, BadCopNews.com, KVOA
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