Group home worker charged in sex assault | PostIndependent.com

Group home worker charged in sex assault

Ryan Summerlin
rsummerlin@postindependent.com
Jose Ignacio Echeverria
SexAssault-GPI-051016jpg

The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office arrested an overnight caretaker with Mountain Valley Developmental Services last month, accusing him of having sexually assaulted a developmentally disabled client at one of the organization’s Glenwood Springs group homes.

A woman who stays at the group home told staffers that Jose Ignacio Echeverria, a 54-year-old Glenwood Springs man, came into her room in the night of April 10 and sexually assaulted her, an arrest affidavit in the case says.

Another Mountain Valley employee told police that Echeverria was the only staffer on duty at the residence the night of the incident, according to the affidavit.

Mountain Valley’s clients generally don’t stay in the group homes during the days; rather the homes are a place for them to spend nights and weekends, said Bruce Christensen, the organization’s executive director.

Echeverria worked primarily at the residence on Mountain Shadow Drive, but he occasionally worked at other Mountain Valley sites, including one on Moki Avenue in Rifle.

Christensen said Echeverria wasn’t in an oversight role, but generally worked with six to eight clients.

Mountain Valley runs criminal background checks before making hires and checks with references and former employers.

Upper management also routinely does unannounced visits at the group homes, “and managers are trained to look for issues with the people we serve,” he said.

The Post Independent checked Colorado Bureau of Investigation records on Echeverria, which resulted in no criminal history other than the charges in this case.

“Jose had previously been reprimanded by MVD human resources for making inappropriate comments to clients, including commenting on the weight of female clients,” according to the affidavit.

Christensen said Mountain Valley never had to take disciplinary action against Echeverria.

Searching the residence, investigators seized the victim’s bedding and clothes in the room, and they took swabs around the bed.

The victim was taken to Community Hospital in Grand Junction for a sexual assault exam, and she underwent a forensic interview in which she recounted the incident.

Prior to the interview, staffers said the victim had been talking about the assault quite a bit, which they found out of character for her.

Another female client who has epilepsy had a pronounced disliking for Echeverria, according to one witness. She was known to be combative with staff members, but she was especially aggressive toward Echeverria, shouting things like “scram,” when he was around and saying things like “I don’t like him” and “Get him away from me,” the witness told investigators.

When the sheriff’s office brought him in for questioning April 13, Echeverria told investigators that he was the sole staffer on duty at the residence the night the victim said she was assaulted.

The affidavit said Echeverria had been placed on leave between the time of the accusation and his arrest.

Mountain Valley had not told him specifically why he’d been placed on leave. That same night another resident had come back to the group home with 15 fewer pills of his medication than he should have.

Echeverria said he thought that was why he was on leave.

He told investigators that he’d helped clean feces off the female client and wiped her bottom in the bathroom that night. He said he followed policy by asking if he could help her, according to the affidavit.

When he was informed of the accusations against him, he laughed and denied having gone into the client’s room and sexually assaulting her, wrote investigators.

Investigators later took buccal swabs from Echeverria for evidence, and he was arrested shortly after.

“When advised of his charges, he shrugged his shoulders and laughed,” according to the affidavit.

Echeverria was arrested on charges of crimes against an at-risk adult, a class 2 felony, and sexual assault, a class 4 felony.

Christensen said he could not comment on whether Echeverria had been fired because it’s a personnel matter, but he drew attention to his past-tense descriptions of Echeverria’s job as a caretaker.

Christensen said this is the second accusation of sexual assault associated with Mountain Valley in his time with the organization.

James Garland, then a 66-year-old Glenwood Springs man, was arrested in 2008, having also been accused of sexual assault on a developmentally disabled woman who was once a Mountain Valley client.

Garland later pleaded guilty to felony attempted sexual assault and burglary, though two counts of sexual assault on an at-risk adult were dismissed. He was sentenced to six months in jail and had to register as a sex offender.

Developmentally disabled people suffer staggering numbers of sexual assaults.

The Arc of Aurora, a nonprofit advocacy group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, holds that 83 percent of developmentally disabled women will be sexually assaulted sometime in their life.

Almost half of those women will be sexually assaulted 10 or more times, said Jean Solis, Arc of Aurora’s marketing and development director.

“It’s a huge problem with a population targeted because of their vulnerability,” she said.

Very few sexual assaults against this population are random, said Solis. Most often it’s by people they know, which might be caregivers, peers in a congregate living situation, relatives or friends, she said.

Unfortunately, hearing about a sexual assault in a group home is not unusual, said Solis.

Though it’s a far cry from outright prevention, Solis and others advocates hope to see improvements from a new state law that’s about to take effect.

The Colorado General Assembly passed a law making it mandatory to report abuse toward adults with disabilities. That law’s implementation will begin July 1, said Solis, making the same rule for mandatory reporting that’s already been in place for children and the elderly.


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