Rape alleged at county jail

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On New Year’s Eve, a 40-year old Socorro County woman was arrested for DWI and taken to the detention center. Five days later, when she was released, she contacted Sheriff’s Deputy William Armijo and told him she woke up in her cell on the second morning naked from the waist down, with her sweatpants and underwear around one ankle.

“I thought it was a dream, and I pulled them back on and went back to sleep,” she said. “But the next morning they were on the floor in a neat pile, like someone took them off me.”

The woman said she takes medication that completely knocks her out at night, but it’s never caused her to undress herself. She told Armijo she noticed boot prints on her cell floor, which she had mopped herself on New Year’s Day. She was convinced she’d been raped, but was afraid to say anything while she was still in the jail. She said she did try to avoid taking a shower, because she didn’t want to wash away any evidence, but they forced her to shower against her will.

Although it had been more than 48 hours since the alleged assault, on Jan. 5 Armijo drove the woman to Albuquerque for a Sexual Assault Nurse Exam. He also launched an investigation, requesting videotape and the duty roster for the days in question from the detention center administrator, Evangel Maldonado.

According to an unsigned incident report completed by a detention center guard, showing a date and time of Jan. 5 at 2 p.m., the videotape from the time the woman was booked into jail until her release was reviewed, there was nothing to suggest that the inmate had been mistreated or had any physical contact with any of the guards. The report notes a “two or three hour gap in the footage due to technicians working on the system.”

Two other unsigned incident reports deal with unsuccessful efforts on the part of detention center staff to comply with Armijo’s request for a copy of the video footage. Both reports give a date and time of Jan. 9 at 10 a.m. One states that a guard called Integrated Technologies Group, the Socorro company that handles the digital video recordings, on Jan. 4, to request that a CD be made of the footage for the dates in question.

The other states that the video was requested from Integrated Technologies at 10 a.m. on Jan. 9. According to that report, the detention center was told that Integrated Technologies would need two days to fulfill the request, and the recording would be ready on Jan. 13. However, on Jan. 17, detention center staff was told the requested time period had been recorded over, the report says.

Deputy Armijo’s official report appears to conflict with that of detention center staff. Armijo’s report, dated Jan. 21, says he spoke with the jail administrator on Jan. 18, who told him the recordings would be available on Jan. 20.

Meanwhile, on Jan. 9, Armijo said he was advised by the 7th Judicial District Attorney’s Office to turn the matter over to the New Mexico State Police for investigation, to avoid a possible conflict of interest.

The NMSP report, returned to the DA’s office in mid-March, is brief. It summarizes two interviews, one with the alleged victim and one with the detention center administrator and a guard, and includes a copy of the Sexual Assault Nurse Exam checklist and summary of the sexual assault evidence collection and exam procedures.

According to the report, the NMSP received the sealed Sexual Assault Evidence Kit, containing all the evidence collected during the woman’s exam, on Feb. 13. The report doesn’t mention whether the evidence was sent to a forensic laboratory for analysis.

The alleged victim met with Assistant District Attorney Ricardo Berry on March 19, who told her the state would be unable to file criminal charges because she was unable to identify her alleged assailant.

This was what the woman was expecting, but the news still hit her like a punch in the gut.

“So you’re not going to do anything,” she said. “You’re going to let them get away with it.”

Unless there was DNA evidence pointing to a perpetrator, Berry said, her only recourse would be to see if she could get an attorney and file a civil suit against the county.

Reading through the copies of the documents in her case file that Berry provided, she had one question.

“What happened to my underwear?” she asked.

She explained she had saved the underwear she wore after the alleged assault and given it to Deputy Armijo for evidence.

Berry spoke with Armijo on the phone, then told the woman it appeared the underwear was still at the sheriff’s office, and hadn’t been turned over to the state police. He said he would instruct the deputy to send it for testing, but it could take a long time to get results back.

Facing Disbelief

County Manager Delilah Walsh said she would be “shocked beyond belief” if the victim’s allegations were true.

“I can’t even believe that would be a possibility,” Walsh said. “That’s why we have female guards on every shift. We make sure that if we do have a female inmate, only a female guard goes into her cell. Never does a male guard go into a female pod.”

Walsh said female inmates are normally transported immediately to the McKinley County Detention Center in Gallup due to space issues, so that all available inmate pods can be used for male prisoners.

The female inmate in this case was held in Socorro the entire time in what the guards refer to as the “black hole,” a cell approximately 4 feet by 6 feet next to the guard station, so she could be kept under observation. The cell has no toilet or sink.

“It’s where we put people who need to be separated from the rest of the population, who for whatever reasons are not stable enough,” Walsh said. “It doesn’t have anything they can hurt themselves with. We use it for suicide watches a lot.”

In this inmate’s case, the county manager said she believes the jail staff followed the correct procedures after the woman’s complaint was filed with the sheriff’s deputy. However, she’s frustrated by what she called a “lack of follow through” on the part of Integrated Technologies Group.

“What it sounds like to me is that ITG did not pull the video in time before it got recorded over. There’s no way for us to pull it off the system. We rely on our IT techs to do that,” Walsh said. “On the detention center side, they made incident reports immediately, gathered statements, requested video. They followed their process.”

Walsh said she would hope that the investigator covered all the bases in looking into the complaint, but once an investigation is turned over to the state police, the county is no longer involved unless it becomes a civil matter.

However, she feels for the inmate.

“On her side, it must feel like she doesn’t have any completion,” she said.

For her part, the alleged victim admitted she has issues that might cause some people not to take her claims seriously, related to the type of medications she’s on and the fact that she was unable to get her medications temporarily while she was incarcerated. She also doesn’t have the resources to hire an attorney, and she doesn’t know where to go from here.

But she wanted her story told, because she doesn’t want some other woman to find herself in the same position, she said.

“I feel like I have to do this, because I don’t want what happened to me to happen to other women,” she said. “Somebody has to stand up and say something.”

Walsh said the alleged victim’s issues have no bearing on the case.

“We do deal with people who have mental health issues and we do take that responsibility very seriously. This is not a thing where people are dismissed because they have issues,” Walsh said. “We investigate everything internally. I pray that nothing did happen, because you don’t want anybody to be victimized like that. But it would be shocking, because we haven’t had any other reports like that.”

 


-- Email the author at sbarteau@dchieftain.com.