Inmate alleges sexual assault in Garfield jail |

Inmate alleges sexual assault in Garfield jail

Steve Benson
Aspen Times

and Greg Masse
Post Independent Staff

An inmate at the Pitkin County jail claims she was repeatedly sexually assaulted in early July by a detention officer in Garfield County jail – and then was told to keep quiet about it.

Elsa E. Gonzalez, 28, of Glenwood Springs, contacted The Aspen Times from the Pitkin County jail Thursday, and said it was time her story was told.

“They won’t let me talk to anyone, they’re telling me to keep this quiet,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t feel that’s right.”

Officials from Pitkin County jail deny that they have told her to “keep this quiet” or that they are treating her unfairly. And Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario says his department only asked her to avoid talking about the case with other inmates while it was under investigation.

Gonzalez was originally in the Garfield County jail serving a 180-day sentence for driving on a suspended license while on probation. She said the alleged sexual assaults took place in June over a period of two weeks in a control room of the jail, which has mirrored glass that allows guards to look out on the inmate population without being seen.

Furthermore, Gonzalez – identified as Elsa E. Gonzalez-Murillo by the Pitkin County jail – claims other guards helped coordinate the assaults. “The way they treat people in Garfield [County jail] is horrible,” Gonzalez said.

The Glenwood Springs Police Department recently completed an investigation of the incident. Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, whose department runs the jail, said it’s standard procedure to call in an outside agency to investigate allegations made against his office.

At the end of June, Gonzalez said, another female witnessed one of the assaults and reported it. Gonzalez was moved to Mesa County jail after it was determined the allegations warranted an investigation.

“We just thought it would be best for her to move,” Vallario said.

The guard accused of the assaults was put on administrative leave with pay.

In mid-July, Gonzalez was moved from Mesa County to the Pitkin County jail, where she remains. “Every time I’d be moved, I’d be told not to say anything,” she said. “They’ve told me not to speak to the media.”

Vallario said she was urged not to talk to other inmates because the investigation was still ongoing. It’s normal procedure to ask a victim to refrain from talking to other potential witnesses until the investigation is complete. Vallario maintains, however, that he never had a problem with her talking to the media.

“If you want to speak [to the media] about it, knock yourself out, we’re OK with that,” Vallario said. “It’s not like we’re telling her `you better be quiet or else.'”

Gonzalez said the assaults began in mid-June, shortly after another inmate began showing her breasts to the guards. Gonzalez and other female inmates were then encouraged to show their breasts in exchange for more time out of their cells, and extra food.

“He’d let me get away with stuff,” Gonzalez said. “I was terrified, I was depressed and I was sleeping all the time.”

She said other guards would keep watch while the alleged assaulter would take her into the control room and molest her. Gonzalez said the guard would touch her breasts, kiss her, and stick his hand down her pants.

“I didn’t have sex with him, but they found semen on the carpet [in the control room],” Gonzalez said.

No charges have been filed as a result of the criminal investigation by the Glenwood Springs Police Department. Four statutes were investigated: sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact, unlawful sexual conduct in a penal institution and first-degree official misconduct. The report is expected to be to be presented to the prosecutors in the 14th Judicial District soon.

The suspect’s name was not released.

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

Gonzalez maintains Pitkin County jailers are still forcing her to keep quiet, and says some of her rights as a prisoner have been revoked.

“I can’t go to work [programs], I can’t see my kids, I can’t get counseling,” Gonzalez said. “I haven’t been able to talk to anybody about my feelings, I have to deal with it in here without counseling. This is unbelievable, it’s horrible,” she added. Furthermore, she said she can’t go to the gym, church, or attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Billy Tomb, the supervisor of the Pitkin County Jail, denied those accusations. “Whatever she’s claiming is false, we’re treating her fairly,” Tomb said. Furthermore, Tomb said nobody on his staff ever told Gonzalez to refrain from speaking about the alleged assaults. He said she’s in jail, and therefore does not have certain rights.

On Aug. 11, Gonzalez will be released from the Pitkin County Jail, and she plans to fight the alleged assault until the end.

“I’m telling the truth. I will take them to court, he won’t just walk free,” she said.

Contact Steve Benson:

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511

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