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Colorado Sheriff Liable for Guard’s Sexual Assault on Detainee

The Tenth Circuit reversed the dismissal of a female detainee’s complaint holding that the sheriff had knowledge of jail conditions that were substantially likely to result in the sexual assault of the detainee.

Huerfano County, Colorado detainee Michelle Tafoya filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint alleging that in 2001 guard Alan Ruiz sexually assaulted her while she was detained in the county jail, and that Sheriff John Salazar’s failure to supervise his guards was the cause of her sexual assault. In 1998, two other female prisoners were sexually assaulted, which resulted in a no-contact policy for male guards and female detainees, as well as the instatement a half-day of sexual harassment training. Salazar, however, continued to hire guards with criminal records, did not enforce the no-contact policy, had not created any policy to discipline guards for not complying with jail policies, and conducted no evaluations on guards’ performance. In 2001, the jail administrator eliminated the grievance procedure altogether because there were too many complaints.

On December 22, 2001, Tafoya was sexually assaulted outside the view of the cameras by Ruiz, who had been convicted of DWAI, resisting arrest, destruction of property, disturbance and assault prior to his employment by Salazar. The federal district court dismissed Tafoya’s complaint, holding that insufficient evidence was submitted to show Salazar had knowledge of a substantial risk to female detainees because of the passage of three years from the 1998 assaults and Ruiz’s assault in 2001.

The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded holding that a knowing failure to enforce jail policies may rise to deliberate indifference, and that whether failure to place surveillance cameras in blind spots in the jail was due to budget constraints or deliberate indifference was a genuine question of material fact for a jury to decide. The court also held that Salazar’s failure to implement an adequate grievance procedure with serious investigation and response, failure to supervise jail guards with criminal histories, and failure to create regular training programs raised a genuine question from which a jury could infer that Salazar was deliberately indifferent to the conditions at the jail.

See: Tafoya v. Salazar, 516 F.3d 912 (10th Cir. 2008)

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Related legal case

Tafoya v. Salazar